EVENING IN THE SANITARIUM
~ by Louise Bogan
The free evening fades, outside the windows
fastened with decorative iron grilles.
The lamps are lighted; the shades drawn;
the nurses are watching a little.
It is the hour of the complicated knitting on the safe
bone needles; of the games of anagrams and bridge;
the deadly game of chess;
the book held up like a mask.
The period of wildest weeping,
the fiercest delusion, is over.
The women rest their tired half-healed
hearts; they are almost well.
Some of them will stay almost well always;
the blunt-faced woman whose thinking dissolved
under academic discipline; the manic depressive girl
now leveling off; one paranoiac
afflicted with jealousy;
another with persecution.
Some alleviation has been possible.
O fortunate bride, who never again
will become elated after childbirth!
O lucky older wife, who has been
cured of feeling unwanted!
To the suburban railway station you will return,
return to meet forever Jim home on the 5:35.
You will be again as normal and selfish
and heartless as anybody else.
There is life left: the piano
says it with its octave smile.
The soft carpet pads the thump
and splinter of the suicide to be.
Everything will be splendid:
the grandmother will not drink habitually.
The fruit salad will bloom on the plate like a bouquet
and the garden produce the blue-ribbon aquilegia.
The cats will be glad; the fathers
feel justified; the mothers relieved.
The sons and husbands will
no longer need to pay the bills.
Childhoods will be put away,
the obscene nightmare abated.
At the ends of the corridors
the baths are running.
Mrs. C. again feels the
shadow of an obsessive idea.
Miss R. looks at the mantelpiece,
which must mean something.
The bizarre and spooky world of the midcentury mental hospital, its barred windows and “safe” knitting needles. And its denizens afflicted with paranoid delusions of conspiracy, or with overwhelming anxiety and hysteria, or with grossly unrealistic manic elation, or with depression and suicidality. Louise Bogan anatomizes the whole scene in a few deft strokes. Even the chronicity of mental illness is tellingly depicted: “Some of them will stay almost well always.”