Yesterday the TV news kept circling around the death of serial child killer Ian Brady. There was the usual media feeding frenzy, interviews with lawyers, relatives, anyone who might have seen him in his last dying hours; everyone wondering what his last words were. It seems at the point of death he still managed to manipulate the crowd, sucking at the attention that he desperately wanted. I came across this incredible poem by award winning poet John Foggin, which says everything I wanted to about Winnie Johnson and the victims here, the non celebrities, the real prisoners. Do check out John Foggin’s Blog which is infinitely absorbing at any time.
The moors murders are so much a part of our shared cultural history, shared cultural pain, particularly in the north. Every time I go over saddle worth, crossing to the other side of the border to partake in readings or visit friends, every time I see that road sign to Saddleworth moor, those children are in my mind, particularly Keith Bennett. My heart breaks for Winnie Johnson. I wrote this poem years ago, it’s in my first full collection, Museum Pieces, published by Prolebooks, 2013, which can be bought directly from me, if you’re interested.
Over Saddleworth Moor
In the night, the lights
of houses are stars; villages,
constellations; the moors a deep
peat sky, the colours fused.
We have driven for hours, senseless,
the Pennine pass climbing
back to back with Manchester,
we brush the vertebrae unknowingly.
Only a signpost to Saddleworth;
a fleeting blink of a ghost pulls
the dark into my head. And for miles
I squint through my own reflection
to search dim verges, the blacker
moor shapes hemming the rising sun,
searching for an image of a child; daylight
glinting off his round spectacles, his smile
indelible as the landscape.
His small life and all the games and fibs,
tooth losses and tears, the real boy
in a world of terraced houses
and bread and tea is lost beneath
that photograph. But even this
image is papered over, lost, by one
of slut-heeled boots and she
crouching with a little dog tucked
into her coat. Crouching over a shallow
dip in the earth, down cast eyes
lying to the world about womanhood.