"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Willard

Willard Asylum - Lisa Gordon

The walls sweat
like my doctor's brow.
I long to touch dry bark,
rasp my cheek along the flank of a willow,
rest a hip against the oak
at the back of the lane.

They tell me it will make me feel better.
I swallow and nod and try
to get along.
But the walls waver and sweat

like my doctor's brow.
I can tell you how that tastes.
I want the sandy lane under my feet,
sand I can brush off and leave behind.


I wrote this poem for an artistic interpretation challenge from Margaret at the Imaginary Garden. This photo of the Willard Asylum in the Finger Lakes Region of New York was taken by Lisa Gordon when she toured the facility and photographed it. The asylum opened in 1869 and was closed in 1995. During the time it was operational, 50,000 patients called it home. Six thousand died there. Also of interest to me is Margaret's link to an ongoing project by photographer Jon Crispin called "The Willard Suitcases". He is photographing the contents of suitcases left behind by patients of the Willard Insane Asylum.

There are more photos of the asylum on Lisa Gordon's website here, including this one of a patient's grave, marked only by a number plate set in the ground.


Willard Grave Marker - Lisa Gordon

30 comments:

Sherry Blue Sky said...

This is a beautiful response to the prompt....I love that she is longing for trees, for the comfort of their substance. Wonderfully done!!!! The walls wavering is a really good detail!

ccchampagne said...

Such longing, such sadness... This really grabbed me. Wonderful!

Sumana Roy said...

you have captivated the speaker's predicament very well...

Marian said...

I love this. The walls leak, and provide comfort. Yes, they do.

razzamadazzle said...

This captures that longing perfectly. Love the sweaty wall compared to the doctor.

hedgewitch said...

That last line just pulls it all together,Yvonne-- the sense of compression and discomfort and fear that are as close as the very sweat from the narrator's body, the hopeless irrational feel of the dream of somewhere without enclosure, imprisonment. The middle stanza is just terrifying, too.

Susan said...

The sweat--the walls, the doctor's forehead, the taste of it. Like on a child's arm out on the lane that he licked when he was free. Beautiful associations. Too believable.

Anthony Duce said...

The words consumed me so quickly. I thought of being imprisoned immediately, more within my own thoughts than physical structure.
I’ve read and viewed photos from the noted asylum. Thoughts of lives lived in a special universe comes to mind, and then I think of the asylums lived by many, just in disguise…

Liza said...

My stomach is still quivering with the idea of this. Well done, Yvonne.

Susie Clevenger said...

You have captured so well the pain of that place.

grapeling said...

so well done ~

Yvonne Osborne said...

Sherry,
Thank you!

Champagne,
Thanks. It's a difficult subject.

Sumana
Thanks!!

Marian,
Hi. And Thanks!

Razz,
Thank you. The doctors loomed large in my mind.

Hedge,
Thank you so much.

Susan,
Thank you!

Tony,
Thanks. So true, the asylums we forge for ourselves. Thoughts that imprison.

Liza,
Thanks. These places seem so creepy to me. All those photos gave me a chill.

Susie,
Thank you.

Grapling,
Thanks. Now I've gone and changed the title again....


Grandmother (Mary) said...

I just love that you portrayed her desire to feel nature and that you named the particular things she missed.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow! beautiful and heartfelt. Heartbreaking story behind so many places.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Mary,
Thank you. I really put myself in "her" shoes. Thankfully without having to wear them.

Jemi,
Thanks!!

Mimi Foxmorton said...

You make one feel the dampness and despair, that longing to be free.

manicddaily said...

Hi Yvonne--this has a kind of directness that is very compelling--the wish for dryness--sand, seems like wishing for time to pass, but also for time to be something one could hold onto--and also the idea of being able to brush it away--wonderful, thanks. k.

Fireblossom said...

That's why such places are so particularly terrifying...no option to shake the sand of that place off your shoes and leave.

Other Mary said...

This is brilliant Yvonne. The small details you have put in here, leaning against a tree, or brushing sand from one's feet are so telling.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Mimi,
Thank you so much for commenting.

Fireblossom,
Thanks. It'd be like jail.

M.,
Thanks! When I look at those photos, I can only think how dreary and damp it all felt. How much I would wish for the opposite.

Mary,
Thank you.

Sarah Allen said...

Wow, beautiful!! Great work!

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, With Joy)

Yvonne Osborne said...

Sarah,
Hey, thanks! Thank you for stopping by.

Margaret said...

So many of those patients never stood a chance. How long did it take to break their spirit? The real "bad" ones were kept way back in these tunnels - how long did it take to erase the image of the trees, of sand beneath their feet?

This poem, in its fragile acceptance, the "they say it will make me better" attitude just squeezes my heart. The soft voice of this poem makes me want to grab her or him and run the other way.

I apologize for resounding so late to this challenge I hosted. I DO appreciate your participating!

Jannie Funster said...

I hope I never have to live in one of those places. Good words on the prompt. xoox

Jannie Funster said...

I hope I never have to live in one of those places. Good words on the prompt. xoox

Jannie Funster said...

I guess that posted twice, please excuse my computer.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Margaret,
Thanks so much and thank you for the prompt and the insight.

Jannie,
Thank you. I'll take a double post any day over none at all!

Stephanie Faris said...

Beautiful poem. I love the picture, too. Old asylums fascinate me!

Deirdra said...

Hi I'm looking for your contact info for a bookreview/post?
Can you email me at EdenLiterary at gmail dot com

Yvonne Osborne said...

Stephanie,
Thanks so much! They fascinate yet horrify, like and accident unfolding in front of you.

Deirdre,
My email is in my profile, if you click on the link at the top of the blog, right hand side. I would be happy to consider a book review and pleased you would ask.