It’s time for another stop on the National (Crime) Poetry Month tour, 30 Days of The 5-2.
Earlier in the month, you might have seen our own Kathy Ryan’s selection of “The End of Fun and Games” by Kimberlee Smith or the Peter Gunn-themed one we chose for Criminal Element, “Tinseltown” by John M. Floyd.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been watching the very-cinematic new TV show Hannibal, but for my own personal pick, I was drawn to a crime that inspired this series’ depiction of the horrible. The TV show stages various tableaux of death, and perhaps I’m twisted to admire its aesthetics, but I know they’re false. Reality is never that prettily and perfectly arranged. Actual physics won’t necessarily conform to insane fantasy, but vinyl models and fake blood will.
Ed Gein was an aged Wisconsin farmer and handyman, also a killer, cannibal, necrophiliac, and body thief, who transformed stolen corpses into furnishings later found at his home, including a belt studded with female nipples and a window-shade pull made of lips. He targeted women who were similar in age and build to his departed mother, a withdrawn and judgmental woman who dominated his life and psyche, which is how he inspired the character of Norman Bates in Psycho. Gein crafted masks from female faces, which inspired the character Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He was also obsessed, it seems, with becoming a woman like his mother, stitching together a female suit with attached breasts to wear in an act of grotesque transvestism. It’s presumed that disappointment led him to the 1950s murders of at least 2 local women, Mary Hogan and Mrs. Bernice Worden, because he believed fresher bodies could effect the transformation into his desired objects better. That’s how he inspired the Buffalo Bill character from Silence of the Lambs. (BTW, if you’d like to win a copy of that novel by Thomas Harris, click over to read that post before April 25th.)
When I was in high school in northern Illinois, we drove up to the area where Gein had operated in Plainfield (the old farmhouse had been burned down, go figure), cruising the streets slowly for whatever frisson of awfulness we could detect decades later. (Yes, I was that kind of teen.) In the following poem, Mickey Mantle in trading card form and Cracker Jack seem just as real to the killer as the 58 year-old proprietress of the establishment above, a victim who was not an inanimate stage prop or cardboard stand-in, but a real woman with thoughts and feelings and wishes of her own. Click the title to hear the author, another midwesterner, read it.
He folded them open, from their legs
to their shoulders, peeled them like grapefruits,
thinking, the prize in the center would better
a Mickey Mantle mini-baseball card, found
in a box of Cracker Jack, purchased,
at the same convenience store
he picked up his last victim,
Preparing a human was no different
than preparing a cow; meat is (basically) meat,
and old Ed figured out the brutal truth—
Meat is Art:
Lamp shades made of human skin,
soup bowls made of human skulls,
the tapestry in the shed, decapitated Bernice
hanging upside down, split and gutted;