On the Eleven

I was asked by talented amateur photographer Danny Taylor to write this poem to accompany a selection of his still photographs of the No 11 bus route in Birmingham, which he was compiling into a short film. I travelled all the way round on the 11, anticlockwise, and the poem was inspired by that experience and Danny’s excellent images.

On the Eleven
describing a circle
like a burst balloon.
On a journey
going nowhere in three hours.
Like magic, Acocks Green
away down lanes, past leafy avenues
round roundabouts, along the roads
turns into
Acocks Green,
the solstice, the still point
where drivers, woolly hatted,
hi-vis jacketed, interchange,
embarking, widdershins,
on the A4040
they never left

Inside –
caps and plastic bags.
An ad for surplus clothes
– turn rags to wealth. Bells ring.

For oh, outside are all those
city villages called green,
grassy wastes where no one plays,
no one strays, no one stays.

Inside bells ring.
“I’ll get off at the shops”
someone rises, props herself
in wheelchair space to wait
where mothers slide
and dovetail buggies.

For oh, outside they look for healing,
worship,
careless of what they throw away.
Past displays of grief and flowers
angels guard deserted graves.

Inside, bells ring, doors grind.
“Ta-ra” “Thank you driver” “Cheers”
they say as they alight.
No rush.
Long waits at stops
for nowhere, nobody,
for nothing, for nought,
except to throw
some time away.

“It was busy years ago,”
they say inside.

For oh outside
forgotten pasts still
dwell in houses
derelict, pristine, careful gardens
painted railings. Space for hire
History for sale.

Inside bells ring
and something smells warm,
salty, like bacon sandwiches, greasy,
spicy, cabbage, deep-fried veg.

For oh outside the distant glamour,
exotic hints of other worlds,
places unseen clamour on posters –
Be star in Perry Barr.
Jesus cares about Rotten Park.

Inside Polish, Urdu, patois.
“You working?”
“Where you getting off?”
Bells ring.
“Next stop?”
“You getting off here”
Bells ring.
“Next stop?”
“Why not here?”
Why not now?
Bells ring.

On the eleven,
crossing its timeline
ringfencing the city
the centre always just out of reach,
moving on
from Acocks Green
on the A4040
past alleyways and boulevards,
under bridges, over water,
down roads and streets
and carriageways
all the way to
Acocks Green,
forever looped
against the clock.

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