Crime Poem for 30 Days of The 5-2: Ed Gein by Alec Cizak

WordensIt’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 He targeted women who were similar in age and build to his departed mother, a withdrawn and judgmental woman who dominated his life and psyche, which is how he inspired the character of Norman Bates in Psycho.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.

ED GEIN by Alec Cizak

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;


9 thoughts on “Crime Poem for 30 Days of The 5-2: Ed Gein by Alec Cizak

  1. Could only read a couple of lines of the poem, not my cup of tea. Perhaps it’s veganism and living aware of the horrors that happen to animals by the millions each day for human consumption, and then in the Gein case and others moving into human exploitation. When I saw Psycho I thought it was the result of a fertile imagination! Eeek!

  2. An awesome post, Clare. Thanks for sharing your experience in Northern Illinois (I probably would have made the same trek!). I had somehow missed this poem when it was first published, so I’m so glad you chose it for “The 30 Days of the 5-2.” Alec did a fabulous job, in writing and performing “Ed Gein.” It’s always amazed me how “pieces” of Ed Gein showed up in novels and movies. His mother royally screwed with his mind; no wonder his father died of alcoholism, being married to a woman like her. It’s no surprise that Ed was obsessed with his mother, after she got through convincing him that all women (except her, of course) were bad news (I’ll take the high road and sum it up like that). I’m not aware of anything to the contrary, but it’s too bad Gein’s brain wasn’t donated to science. It really needed to be examined!

  3. And apparently, despite the fact he snapped once he was older, there’s some indication he was collecting shrunken heads even as a teen, so it wasn’t all after a lifetime of abuse–there was something in the wiring.

  4. Holy cow (no offense to the vegan)! Great info on Ed Gein. I wonder, though, how valid the charge of necrophilia is. It’s my understanding that no one knows for sure (it’s sort of like J.Edgar Hoover’s cross-dressing–folks have accepted the notion despite the fact that there is no evidence to support it). Hmm, J.Edgar and Ed Gein, I smell a new poem! Regardless of whether Ed got romantic with his victims, the manner with which he treated their bodies was is and always will be deplorable. From an entirely nihilist point of view, however, it is difficult for me not to consider, in the most grotesque of ways, that Ed was an artist. Us ‘normal’ folks are simply too kind to ever treat another human being as a canvass (well, most of us. This week has certainly proven the brutal, sadistic, murderous urge some humans harness has gone nowhere since Eddie Gein’s time…)

    • Alec- great poem and thanks for stopping by! He was kind of an artist, which made his ability to disturb much deeper. When he objectified a victim, it wasn’t just in his mind.

      Re: necrophilia- Gein said the bodies smelled too bad for that kind of thing, but he also turned their sex organs into specific props. Besides the nipple belt, I read he tried on the vulvas he collected, but for the purpose of what, if not in some way sexual? He kept a bunch of the trophies mounted to his bedposts and women’s faces (to watch over him, or be forced to watch him) on his bedroom wall. Sure, maybe they weren’t faces anymore to him, and he gave them no more thought than an actress would hanging up her wigs. Given what was found, though, I can’t really buy he had any prudish aversion to bad smells, so with his dysmorphia, social isolation, and mother fixation, I guess I just didn’t find necrophilia a long walk. However, I can always add the weasel word “alleged” just to be covered : )

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