Swapping Minds

(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   
pond.

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)
More Poems by James Laughlin