The Special Ward at Butler Hospital

A new "poem-monologue" to be read at Ladd Observatory, Brown University, in the annual commemoration for H.P. Lovecraft.

Ah, here we are. For the state of these hallways
I must apologize. The janitors won’t clean here:
It’s in their contract since the 1950s. We make do.
I hope that handsome suit of yours will not get soiled:
I haven’t seen one cut like that since my father’s time.
There’s nothing really down here, you see. I’m sure
You’ll want to inspect our new outpatient clinic. No?
Ward L? A special ward? Can’t say I know of it.
These doors are locked. They’re always locked.
There’s nothing to see there, really? Inspector,
we’ve done the annual visit the same each year.
You’ve never asked about this basement. Oh?
An inquiry? Grand jury, you say? I’m sorry, no:
I’m not allowed to open this. Subpoena? I see;
Yes, yes, it all seems clearly worded: “Ward L,
locked rooms in Butler’s basement. Inspect.”
I still don’t think I’m authorized to open — ah,
I see your two friends’ badges there, and, oh,
I’d rather you not display those handguns
considering our population here. Ward L.
The key is here somewhere. You’re making me
exceedingly nervous with that .38. Wrong key.
Damn! Here it is! It’s open! It’s open!
You’ll need a moment to adjust to the dimness.

The men are on this side,
     behind the plexiglass.
There’s a certain family likeness for some:
those lantern jaws, that gait aloof and awkward,
all dressed in their grandfather’s suits.
Every one of them thinks he’s H.P. Lovecraft.
Untreatable, incurable (and certainly unemployable);
nothing short of lobotomy will pull them out of it.
Last count, three hundred. They come from everywhere.
Most states outsource their Lovecraft maniacs;
Their loss, our gain. At least it’s easy to feed them.
Crackers and chili, a slice of pie.
They’re calm except for those nights
On which we bring them ice cream.
They eat it off each other’s bodies, something
you’d pay me not to have to watch.

The Lovecraft women are on the other side.
No, only a dozen or so right now. They suicide
as fast as we get them in. The “Howards”
are not remotely interested in meeting them.
Some lie there at night, exposing themselves
toward the Hyades; some play with rats
and give them endearing little names.
Most of them just read, and lick the wallpaper,
and fill up the room with plush toy octopi
(we sell them in the gift store up above).
A number of them turn out, on closer inspection,
to actually be men. We call them Cthulhu’s nuns.
Every woman who ever reads Lovecraft
winds up this way. They really should ban him.

Here in the back, we have the “machinery.”
There’s the lobotomy kit, and over there
the latest in electroshock, but as I said,
they’re pretty much incurable. Just take a look:
they’re not particularly unhappy. They read;
endless long letters they write to imaginary friends
(of course we never mail them); and they dispute
among themselves for hours fine points
of eldrich lore and Arkham geography.

Report what you like. I think we’re kind to them.
Back in the 60s a former director said, “Empty the place,”
and so we had them all drafted to the infantry:
imagine a platoon of Lovecrafts in Vietnam!
This is not a bad life. It’s not as though
they could go out and get jobs, you know.
And they’re not such gentlemen as one
would think: that Negro attendant they tore
to bits in 1953. Oh my goodness.

So that’s the tour. Gentlemen, your guns.
Thank you for bringing the Inspector down
without his being any the wiser. Just tie him down
to that bed by the electroshock. There, there,
Inspector, it will be fine before long. Your boss
is repressing all evidence of that sacrifice you made
during your South Pacific vacation last year –
all that mess, tsk! tsk! and no Cthulhu
to show for your trouble. You’ll be all right.
You’re going to have three hundred best friends,
and they’ll be just like you. You could live
to a hundred down here. All those books to read
and we even have our own closed-circuit TV:
all Lovecraft, all the time. And now, stop talking.
I’ll just tape over your mouth so you can listen.
Just for you. The rats. The rats in the wall.


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