On the Grounds of a Former State Mental Hospital

On the Grounds of a Former State Mental Hospital
Through wounds in whitewash, brick edges crumble
To red dust. Weeds pierce the interstices of paths slowly
Giving themselves up to trackless overgrowth
Are all shapes broken that differ from expected forms
Or is this slant just as proper to a cupola as symmetry?
Not if it lets the rain in, I suppose

Ivy crawls across arched gaps and up walls, peers
Through windows still barred with a lattice of iron wrought
To contain disordered minds, later prisoners, now shadows
Plaster peels within the chapel like a shedding skin
A pipe organ shrouded in silence and a plastic sheet
Thrusts its peak through a hole cut for it in the ceiling
Once a surface yielded to a shape triumphant
In its irregularity, straining toward a heaven undreamt of
By the common parallels and perpendiculars
A name is still etched in stone above a doorway
And chiseled in the negative space of empty uteri and
Snipped vas deferens of those deemed unfit
Nameless, two thousand tombstones sink into the hill
Some bear a trace of number, others worn to mute rock
Wild roots birth the trees that reach for open sky

Tabor Flickinger is a poet and primary-care physician who lives in Charlottesville, VA. Her works have appeared in Pulse as well as in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Hospital Drive, Abaton and Aberration Labyrinth.

About the Poem

“This poem was inspired by my explorations of the site of an abandoned state hospital, reflecting on the tensions between order and disorder in both physical and mental contexts.”

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2 thoughts on “On the Grounds of a Former State Mental Hospital”

  1. I love this poem’s somber, dreamlike tone and evocative images:
    “a shape triumphant
    In its irregularity, straining toward a heaven undreamt of
    By the common parallels and perpendiculars”

    And I particularly love the last line:
    “Wild roots birth the trees that reach for open sky”

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