Visiting Hours at McLean Psychiatric Hospital - Waltham, MA Victoria Thompson Poetry

local_library Visiting Hours at McLean Psychiatric Hospital – Waltham, MA

by Victoria Thompson

Published in Issue No. 171 ~ August, 2011

Lined up in front of the television, the chairs

look like scattered boats waiting for the start

of the regatta. I’m telling myself I look normal,

not nervous. I get it from my mother.

At age sixteen, she cut her front lawn

with craft scissors, praying not to be seen—

waving a toothy “hello” when she was.

At this hour all the patients just nod at questions.

They do not acknowledge me. I bring a puzzle

over to my father. And a cup with ice (he said

he missed having ice). There’s the Asian man

who goes to M.I.T.— my mother brings him

my brother’s old clothes. I’m glad to know

he has a stutter, and that he looks up

to my father, and that he knows to shake my hand.

The nurse passing out pills from a cart

mumbles “Free Bird” in a half-whistle, half-hum,

shaking the pills like a tambourine as he walks.

My father tightens his red bandana

and starts his puzzle. He can’t be bothered with

re-runs of Gilligan’s Island. He wants a task that

has an end, so he can be sure he is needed for the next one.

He is thinking he wants something to take him out

of this place—to dig him up and reattach his roots

in a nice, neglected garden where no one

asks if he likes it there or if he needs more

of anything—as he winds the puzzle pieces

in waves between his fingers. I think of his

garden at home, and the fact that it’s summer

and he couldn’t possibly know that it wasn’t a good

season for his tomatoes. The calendar

on the bulletin board across the hall displays

a piece of faded-pink paper with the month’s

activities. It predicts lunches, TV shows, and even

the weather. Do not tell me what’s next—I am not

a date reminder, or a blank space on a calendar

waiting to be filled. When I walk out of here

after visitor’s hours are done, I realize

that our tomatoes are from Stop and Shop,

and my father doesn’t even know.

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Victoria Thompson, 22, is from Arlington, MA and is a first-year student in the MFA Poetry program at the University of New Hampshire.