Alice O. Howell   





There are many mansions in the mind, Mrs. B.,

    says Mrs. James,

         wiping her glasses on her white uniform.

            Your problem obviously relates to architecture.

    Yesterday, I noted, you were in a Gothic mood,

        soaring, brooding, with mists of pessimism

    exhaling through the ruins of memory.


            You seemed remote, unhappy, harking back

    to northern winters and wet stones

            but last week you were cozy and gay

        and cottagey, and your eyes snapped

    as if a fire were crackling on the hearth

            there were intimations of knitting in

        a rocking chair, kittens licking their fur,

                 the sound of laughter from

    children in the kitchen watching the white bread rise

        you seemed snug with a heart full of

    warmth and love nesting under a patchwork quilt.

            What happened?


    No, my dear, you don't have to tell me

                the doctor can see the charts later on.

    Are you still troubled by that boat on the beach,

        and do you hear those waves hissing in your ears?

            The voices are ripped away by the wind

    and everything flaps?  The blowing sand

        stings, and yet far away the white temple on the rock

    is stilldeath and you cannot reach it across the

                blue rage of the morning.


    Why don't you go in where it is quiet?

        Why don't you try a palatial mood, dear,

                        to pass the time.

    You know, crystal mirrors, gilt chairs, red velvet,

            and gold.  You could have fun

        appointing the rooms with tapestries, trimming

    the boxwood gardens in your mind.  A chateau,

                just a bit rococo - a few cherubs

    flying about on the  painted ceiling and a

        bit of paint chipping off in the library!

    The sunshine on the crunchy, grey gravel

            seen through French windows with dust in

        the very corners.

    There, there, dear, rest a bit.

                I'll be back later.  No?

        You want to tell me now.  All right, dearie,

    I'll get the pencil and the pad.  I left them

            I think, in the other ward.


    What did you say?

        the hell with architecture!

                Bedouin tents?  Pagodas?

    A Hilton Hotel in Puerto Rico

            in a blaze of sun and blue?

    You say that while his eyes lit up

        and laughed at your words, you could go

    from world to world, let alone mansions.

        I see. Now we're getting somewhere.


    Stop crying, says Mrs. James, I can't

                    understand you.

            You - speak slowly, Mrs. B. -

        You think you bored him.

                Just words, just words, just words!

    You have run back to that house on Lincoln Street

        and slammed the door to the last mansion.

                There are too many books, newspapers,

    dirty dishes, and the light has gone out of

        spring.  Ashes all about,

                accounts to do, and your eyes ache.

    The balloon isn't ever going up any more?

        The back of his neck is losing its magic.

                    That's all it was anyway.

    You know you were a fool, a contemptible fool,

            playing with the architecture of illusion

                    and now back to the goddam

        split-leveled reality of concrete and

    wastebaskets.  Metal ones?

            The big kind that scrape.  The kind you throw

        empty milk cartons and empty lives and 

    twisted cigarette packs, matches, lost hopes,

                chocolate wrappers, beer cans into

        and they come the next day and

    grind it all in their omnivorous yellow truck

             carry the spoils away and

        leave you sane again.


    Do I have it right?  asks Mrs. James.


    Relax, Mrs. B., says Dr. Littlefield

            writing on his pad and noting with pleasure

        the bosomy shape of the letter.

    These things are quite natural at your age -

            back formations of the glandular system, as it were.

        You must learn to sublimate, my dear.  Quite so.

    How many years since you made love?

            Too many?  We must all learn to live with that.

    Take me - and he coughs a little - I chop wood.

        Sometimes I leave the city and go to New Jersey

                    just to chop, chop, CHOP wood!

        May I borrow one of your cigarettes?

    Thank you.  I have a match.

            Now you write little verses.

        This is a constructive step, Mrs.. B.

    Keep it up.  Someday you may hand me

                an autographed copy of them.

    Not autographed in blood!  You must be joking.

        To be truthful, I do not understand your work.

            It is rather intellectual and symbolic

    Or sentimental, I suppose.  No, I really don't

        have the time at present to give to the matter.

                but someday you must explain them to me.

    Frankly I feel you have a rather

            remorseless mind, and of course,

        the state of your emotions has, ah,

    led you here for help


                You dream of falling

        into grey emptiness quite frequently?

    You reach out for a hand that is not there?

            A young man by a lake is smiling

        because a hippopotamus

                thinks it can swim like a swan?

    Because youth is streaming out of you

        as from a house condemned ?


    Cheer up, Mrs. B., that's the spirit!

                Someday, should I have the time,

        we might take a trip to New Jersey

            and try chopping wood.

    My wife, I am sure, would enjoy meeting you.

        Perhaps she could understand your little verses,

                They are really quite clever, Mrs. B.!