Archives for May 2014

Nine Months with Harry Potter

This is the story of how Megan got her poetry wand back.

From Labor Day of 2013 to Memorial Day of 2014, approximately one school year, I spent every night with a bloke named Harry Potter. I listened to one chapter a night from all seven audiobooks, starting with “The Sorcerer’s Stone” and going through “The Deathly Hallows.”

I hadn’t been sleeping well for far too long, and I needed something to listen to — a bedtime story, if you will. I’d already read the books and seen the movies, so I was familiar with the story. I knew, more or less, which chapters were likely to keep me awake. British actor Jim Dale reads the books and does all the voices. It’s stunning.

You might think listening to Harry Potter every night would interrupt my dreams. It did. That was the whole point — better dreams. Yes, I’m 43 years old, and I still have nightmares.

The way the file was set up, my phone interpreted each chapter as a song, so every night I set my player to “repeat song.” Most of the chapters were 30-45 minutes long, and I usually fell asleep before they finished.  You might think that endlessly repeating a chapter would get annoying, but at whatever point I did get annoyed, I just turned it off. Then when I woke up at, say, 3:18 in the morning, as happened far too often, I’d hit “play” again and pick up where I left off.

To purchase the audiobooks I spent about $250, which wasn’t nothing, but surely was less than the cost of nine months of sleeping pills. Plus they had a much better side effect: I think they awakened my poetry.

There is a scene at the end of “Deathly Hallows” that’s not in the movie. Once Voldemort is dead and Harry finds himself in possession of the Elder Wand, he doesn’t want it, since it caused so much death and devastation through the centuries. But before he locks it up safely where no one can ever use it again, he uses it to repair his own wand — holly, 11 inches, with a phoenix feather core. After Hermione accidentally broke his wand while saving their lives, he carried around the pieces of his wand, hoping there was some way to repair them.

The wand chooses the wizard — every Harry Potter fan knows that. Harry wanted the wand that chose him in Olivander’s shop, the one that worked better for him than any other. His wand.

It feels like poetry chose me. I never set out to be a poet or to even to like poetry. It was just there, waiting for me. And like Harry’s wand, it did get broken, accidentally, and a life was saved.

It’s taken nine months of listening to a long fairy tale with a complicated plot and unforgettable characters to repair my wand. I’m not sure why it worked, although the idea of Platform 9 3/4 is fertile ground for poetry. The idea that regular things, like boarding school and celebrity authors and even prejudice can be rendered imaginatively — pure poetry compost.

Toward the end of listening to “Deathly Hallows,” I went to the grocery store and bought a new 6-by-9 inch spiral notebook, the same size a friend of mine uses to write her poetry. I also bought a new package of Sharpwriter No. 2 pencils, the ones my friend swears are the best. That’s all I need to make a little magic.

Then I started writing in the notebook with the pencil. I started noticing things again, seeing if any poems jumped out of their chairs and waved their arms at me. They did.

So, Harry (and really, J.K. Rowling), I don’t know how you did it. I don’t know why it took nine months. All I know is I got my wand back. And it’s casting spells again.

Dominance (a dog poem)


Polo has her foot on top of my foot.


Dominance, the dog

books say. Don’t

let her.


I let her

as long as she likes.


I ask, What am I going to do, Polo?


Pet me, she says.


Where is Clover? I ask.


She answers, Never mind her.


Clover barks from the backyard at some unseen

outside menace.


Polo leaps off the bed to join the fight

for freedom.


I wait for silence to resume. The house is

still dark. Clover slinks back inside.

I shut the door, pull the lock.


Clover curls at my feet

under the lone lamp lit

in this hour before sunrise.


I hear a plaintive bark through the locked door.


Clover, where’s Polo? I ask.


She does not blink. Who?

14 May 2014

Note to self: Hold Clover’s leash tightly. This morning, I didn’t do that.

When we passed an empty lot that leads to a field, a group of white-tailed deer ran past, and Clover took off after them. I watched her pink leash escape into the darkness.

Immediately, I squeezed Polo’s black leash, but she wasn’t as interested in the chase. She just wanted to look tough to a bunch of grass-eaters.

I stayed calm. I knew Clover couldn’t catch a deer. I knew she’d give up, which she did after a couple of minutes. She didn’t come straight to me but busied herself nearby with something dead in the middle of the road.

“Clover!” I called, and she walked over, allowing me to grab the leash again, which I held tightly the rest of the way home.

Everything That Makes You … Divergent

My friend Laura Lynn Brown published “Everything That Makes You Mom” last year, but I didn’t read it until this year. What follows—last Wednesday and today—is a review of sorts. Laura’s book is part memoir, part writing exercise. She offers memories of her mother, interspersed with questions for you to answer about yours, such as “How might she deal with animal intruders?”

I never could figure out which house of Hogwarts I belonged in (although I leaned toward Ravenclaw because I adore Luna Lovegood). While reading “Divergent,” I had the same problem with knowing what faction I would choose. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I were Divergent, like Tris?

Divergents are people whose testing reveals they could belong to more than one faction. Tris qualifies for Erudite, Abnegation and Dauntless. That means she’s smart, selfless and brave. Divergents are dangerous to the authorities because they can’t be controlled.

“Mom, how do you know about Divergence?” Tris asks her mother. “What is it? Why …”

“I know about them because I am one,” she says as she shoves a bullet in place. (In the movie, this is when Ashley Judd gets her gun and saves the day.)

After a bit more explanation about factions and her personal history, Tris’ mother says, “I wanted you to make the choice on your own.”

The hardest part of being a mother is letting our children make the choice on their own.

In Laura’s book, she asks this question about mothers: “What simple pleasures did she invite you along on?”

I remembered our trip to New England together when I was 15. It was supposed to have been a romantic vacation with my dad, but he couldn’t go because of work. So, she asked me to come along on a quiet adventure through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Not having my dad along forced Mom out of her comfort zone to do all the driving and deciding. I was her navigator backup, which was a tragic mistake. One day we were heading for Freeport, Maine, and we knew we had taken a wrong turn when we saw a sign proclaiming, “Welcome to New Hampshire!”

Clearly, Navigation is not a faction I would qualify for, if such a faction existed in any society.

During that trip, my mom confronted me about my anorexia. When we got home, she arranged for me to get counseling. And when that didn’t cut it, she found a place for me to get treatment.

As “Divergent” unfolds and Tris confronts her divergence, she realizes that Abnegation and Dauntless share a quality — bravery. It is expressed differently in each faction, but even selfless people can act bravely in order to save someone else. Or, as Four/Tobias puts it, “I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”

That makes my mother Divergent. She was selfless and brave. She didn’t just fight her own battles, but mine, too, as much as she could.

Next year my 15-year-old daughter is going away to a boarding school — her choice. I’ve never seen her work so hard for anything in her life. I hope she becomes convinced of her own strength. I hope she sees that bravery takes many forms, especially selflessness. If she is Divergent, it will require more of her than she can imagine. It might even be a little dangerous.

I know because she is so much like my mom.

Poems Are Like Bats

I’m at Sandra Heska King’s place today, as she dives into her May study of Dave Harrity’s “Making Manifest,” about all things creative.

Which got me thinking about bats. And poems.

P.S. Laura Brown included a bat poem by Randall Jarrell in the comments. Too much fun!


4 May 2014

At the end of last week, I was sick and ignored Clover and Polo for about 24 hours. The last thing I wanted when I had a stomach bug was for Clover to leap onto my bed and greet me with exceeding great joy.

When I finally opened my door on Friday afternoon, guess what Clover did? She leaped onto my bed and greeted me with exceeding great joy. Polo, not quite the jumper, did manage to jump up there, too, and compete for attention.

“Girls! Get down!” my sweet husband said.

And so they did, Clover leaping off the bed and Polo carefully scampering down to the floor.

That was Friday. Yesterday, I was able to walk them and again today. Things are getting back to normal. Polo is with my daughter, who is cleaning her room. Clover is by my feet. Oops, no she’s not—oh, look! She’s taken Polo’s favorite spot in the easy chair in my son’s room.

Today is indeed a special day.