Swapping Minds

By James Laughlin 1914–1997 James Laughlin

(for Vanessa)

Melissa and I were sitting   
by the little lake in Green   
Park in London playing   
“swapping minds.” It’s an
old game that came down from   
the Lowlands. It was a fine   
day so we had brought   
a little picnic. Melissa   
makes wonderful pâté, as
good as anything from Fortnum   
& Masson. Yummy. And we had   
a half bottle of Chardonnay   
between us.

Here is how the game of   
“swapping minds” goes. It’s   
not a child’s game, it’s   
very intellectual, or should   
I say psychological. Just   
imagine Melissa and I are   
talking. She says something   
to me, “James why are you   
always so arrogant?” But,   
obviously that’s not what   
she is thinking. To answer   
her I must try to imagine   
what she was thinking when   
she asked that. I must swap   
minds with her.
I ventured the following:   
“Melissa, you have the most
lovely white skin in England,   
you must be careful   
not to get sunburned.

Melissa: “James, why do you   
pretend you are Scots when   
you’re really of Irish descent?”

James: “Melissa, are you   
remembering the handsome   
Russian boy you met in the   
Hermitage on your trip to   
Russia and he took you to have   
an ice cream with him?”

Melissa: “James, did the
other boys in school tease   
you because you were so bad   
at games?”

James: “Do you really love   
me or are you just flirting?”

Melissa: “I’m sorry, James,   
but the response is in your   
mind, not in mine.”

That was the end of the   
“swapping game” for that   
day, and such a happy day   
it was, there in Green Park,   
watching the ducks on the   

James Laughlin, “Swapping Minds” from Poems New and Selected. Copyright © 1996 by James Laughlin. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Poems New and Selected (1998)

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Poet James Laughlin 1914–1997

Subjects Men & Women, Relationships

 James  Laughlin


While a sophomore on leave of absence from Harvard University, James Laughlin met Ezra Pound in Rapallo, Italy, and was invited to attend the "Ezuversity"—Pound's term for the private tutoring he gave Laughlin over meals, on hikes, or whenever the master paused in his labors. "I stayed several months in Rapallo at the 'Ezuversity,' learning and reading," recalls Laughlin in an interview with Linda Kuehl for the New York Times . . .

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SUBJECT Men & Women, Relationships

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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