Openshaw Poems

by Michael Patrick O'Leary


It’s a jungle out there.

Jungle sounds.

The damp echoing of a diesel’s klaxon.

Feline hiss of wet tyres.

It’s a jungle out there.

The pocked yard fills with oily pools.

A distant, unidentifiable irritant

Like a dentist’s unceasing drill.


A night like an aching tooth.


An eighty-year old woman is dying

In a state of siege.

Her body shrinks,

Eroded by insidious

Winds of time.

Her spirit dissolves

Imperceptibly into fog.


It’s a jungle out there.

Outside, a derelict wilderness

Gestates predatory creatures.

Loose bricks that once formed the homes

Of friends and family,

(Now dead or dispersed

In the diaspora of the downtrodden,

Disappeared by council decrees

Into spanking new slums in the sky)

Thud against her door

In the long threat

Of the night.




A dog’s body

Is deficient for the challenge

Of a charging bus

And becomes mere matter

For the flies to kiss.


Mind over matter.

A dogsbody in the wireworks

Was crushed to matter

Under a toppled crane.

He didn’t matter to anyone much.

They didn’t mind

Getting another from the labour exchange

Didn’t mind sending some flowers.


The “purveyor of fine meats”

“Is pleased to meet you,

And has meat to please you”.

An ultra-violet insect repeller

Hums and gives out a purple glow

Like an undertaker’s neon sign.

A bluebottle settles with a


Languor on a lamb carcass.

Among dripping cadavers of cows

And smaller pieces of mutilated animals

The butcher reads in his news paper

Of carnage and mayhem in Ireland

And frowns.


Reflections of derelict houses

Mingle with sample headstones

In the funeral director’s window.

He’ll always do a good trade here.

Old people steal

From  the social to put money by

To be respectably buried.


Crepuscular purple light

Casts a mortuary pallor

On crumbling streets,

Where generations of spirits were stunted.

Strips of brown wallpaper

Flap in the spiteful twilight.

A dead armchair still bears the greasy

Imprint of some Brylcreamed pate

That now may be a hollow skull

Growing weeds.


Green weeds and dandelions

Sprout stubbornly

Where hungry childhood died into vicious

Querulous old age.

Human spirits become carrion

For voracious vegetation.

What a carry on!


How do they carry on?

Why do they carry on?


The street names here

Give a frisson if you have read

Beyond Belief.

Years ago, when there was some kind of life

In these houses,

Hindley and Brady trod these pavements,

Carrying in their minds

The unthinkable,

Seeking children to torture.

Do the ghosts of their victims

Socialise with the factory-maimed?

Do they compare and contrast

The respectable and bureaucratic


With the perversion that sickens us all?




Old stomachs rumble

Behind watchchains.

Time is buried in linty recesses

Of brown serge.

Old minds, stifled

In shiny brown wallpaper

Fade beneath flat caps.


On Thursday morning

The pillar box

Is so certainly scarlet

Outside the Post Office.

Old women, pension books

Slimmer by another order,

Arthritically finger their change,

Reckoning the chances

Of buying one more week.




Throughout this first day of almost summer

They have poured out of their

Dark and dusty terraces.


In Abbey Hey park

The old and the halt,

The wage slaves and the petty clerks,

The jobless and the feckless,

Have tried to enjoy

The blue but airless sky.


In Abbey Hey park

Young women on leave from Atora,

Tresses lank from their work,

Faces pustuled from the suet

Usurping their sebum,

Broiled gently under the low flame of the sun.


A young mother in a short skirt,

Exposed shins mottled and marbled,

Brindled like brawn

By her winter fires.

She hoped the sun’s blessing would heal

Her flesh, erase the purplish yellow

Shadow about her cheekbone.


Pale sandy- haired children have

Smeared their faces

With Mr Softee

And fingered the old dog turds

Baked white in the sunshine.


In Abbey Hey park

Hennaed women offered

Varicose veins in benediction

To the heavens.


The sun is a glob

Of phlegm

Hawked westward from the

Rubber works

Slithering down

The greasy sky

Over the suet factory.



As the sun sets

In the mad alien fire of the

Polluted sky,

Women’s bodies sweaty and glowing

From the heat of a long day,

Freed from imprisoning foundation

Garments flounder and slide

Across plastic sofas

Draped with laddered tights.

Laughing hips flop

In defiance of loosened girdles.


As the sun descends to its nadir

In the now infernal sky,

Dentures are abandoned

To swim or sink

In pint mugs of water.

They grin back at their owners

In a rictus saying, “You’ve got to laugh”;

And “Mustn’t grumble”;

And”Tomorrow’s another day”;

And “As long as you’ve got your health”;

And “You don’t have to be mad to work here”;

And “We’ll all be pushing up daisies one day”.