Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Views from the Asylum

Robert Ferrari
Alberta, Canada


Poet’s statement: “Views from the Asylum” is an ekphrasis of Van Gogh’s works from his 1889 period, when he self-admitted to Saint-Paul-de-Mausole and produced 150 paintings while in that asylum. It is interesting that he painted so much and so clearly under constraint. The same phenomenon is echoed by poets who argue that using a particular poetic form, be it a sonnet or a particular rhyme scheme, although a constraint, frees them from a lot of other worries (e.g., length, sound, and closing).

The goal of “Inviting Micropsia” was to capture, from the patient’s perspective, the situation of being asked to read the Snellen eye chart, with a comical exaggeration of what the patient is doing: focusing on their position (the one-eyed stance), being challenged to eye waning letters, ritualistically calling out groups of letters recited by millions, and the near surreal descent of guessing at disappearing letters.



Views from the asylum
I paint to free myself of all my thoughts,
Smoking them out, purging them from my brain,
Setting fire to my eyes, ears and mouth
Letting thoughts bleed out my nose a stain.
I wash the whole of my chest with more blood
Than was ever housed in my failing heart,
Thoughts shrieking from my head like a flash flood
Of red ants whose hill has been set a-start.
With gasoline-doused pepper, mixed with lime,
Vile poison soaking my cognition
Evicts every tenant from my mind,
Like a landlord planning demolition.
But even when cleansed of my thoughts, I remain,
Ever, ever, ever host to the insane.

Ever, ever, yes, host to the insane,
Vacancy is quarry for the scurry
Of mice and beetles to fill up the brain
With fractures of leaves on trees in fury;
With sights of thick ivy crawling like worms
Pale yellow and black, brown, caramel lines
Sunlight dancing with shimmering squirms,
And I in my strokes feeding their designs.
I panic, restless, rocking to the call
Of faint voices down the long corridor
Of callous soles tapping on marbled hall
Who feign caring, and they will be sorry for
Things that are gone, and those then lost
Painting ourselves free of all of our thoughts.





ROBERT FERRARI, MD, MSc is a clinical professor of the Department of Medicine, University of Alberta. He is interested in the study of Latin and the romance languages. His poetry has been published in Canadian Medical Association Journal and Journal of General Internal Medicine, with a selection currently in press with the Canadian Journal of Pathology.

Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2012 – Volume 4, Issue 1
Winter 2012  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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