Aaron Bauer

Aaron Bauer lives in Northern Colorado and received his MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His work has appeared in Prism Review, Spillway, Superstition Review, Inkscape and many other journals. Also, he has served as Editor for Permafrost and is a Contributing-Editor for PoemoftheWeek.org.


Unnamed Woman—State Hospital, Michigan

Exhibit: an assembly of objects rests
behind glass (fountain pen, tooth brush, clothes
pin, pencil, butter knife, teaspoon, array of bottle caps,
crochet hook, forceps, fork…) which together compose

what—in the State Hospital, an asylum—
a woman swallowed over her decade stay.
An explanatory note: “She would consume
any items she could when she or those nearby

failed to perform” (Tea’s at two, not two-oh-
five. The dark-skinned nurse brought my foodcould she
have touched it? My urine today was too yellow.)

“buying her a month in a new retreat.”

New cow-eyed staff, new bed, more brick walls
where an endless slough of paint chips falls.

There is little in the right name to wild flowers
to suggest their place in a field. How hyacinths
always makes her cry. How wild thyme

made her feel inadequate. There is
little in the right name to a condition
to suggest an impact. How one in twenty

women crave to ingest soil while pregnant. (Pica,
an appetite for non-food substances,
derived from the Latin word for magpie.) How a lick

at the nipple might itself spur lactation. There is little
in a woman’s name to suggest how the curls of her bangs
might frame her face, how that frame might mirror

the bars on her windows, how those bars might mirror
the slender birches outside and how leaves on those birches
might block the sun so daylight in her room always has

a green tint that makes her nauseous. There is little
in the answer to the question “What’s the matter?” to give
any comfort to a woman who has denied herself comfort.

Her doll, towheaded, hair missing on left side—
dress, covers to upper-thighs, rose imprint.

Her Bible, annotations only at the start of Genesis,
and first Timothy (her initials penned on inside cover).

Her abdomen, scarred before her husband admitted
her, saying no, no, too much, no more little deaths,

she’s as good to me as a lifeless rib, and, God,
I could lose one more to be rid of her.

Item five:
Ivory-handled knife.
Ingested, June 7, 1948.
Removed, June 9, 1948.

Item seventeen:
Bed knob.
Ingested, January 27, 1950.
Removed, January 28, 1950.
None (sutures to repair tearing).

Item twenty-one:
Letter opener.
Ingested, December 23, 1952.
Removed, December 23, 1952.

Item twenty-three:
Pumice stone.
Ingested, July 8, 1956.
Retrieved, July 11, 1956.

She tells the staff
she needs their touch,
their things.

And she’s very clever
you know at getting what
she wants.

We’ve told everyone to stop
but she is good at creating
a need

then before you know it
she’s charmed the pen
from your pocket.

2 thoughts on “Aaron Bauer”

  1. Aaron, Unnamed Woman is gorgeous and affecting. I wonder if you began with the specific details of a real person and built your other images over these. The poem has so many layers. It spoke to me specically because my own mother was a patient in mental institutions (long after worst abuses in asylums) and she had to live by her wits to get things from others (who of course had all the power).

  2. Thank you for your comment, Marlena. I am glad that the poem resonated with you. Yes. This poem is based on a real person who was committed to the State Hospital in Traverse City, Michigan.

    On another note, it is rather disturbing to visit the State Hospital now, as it has been converted to upscale restaurants and housing. Walking through the halls knowing that these events are not too far removed historically is an uncanny experience.

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