Friday late afternoon, January 27, 2012: I dreamed I went to Chicago to visit Peter Michelson. He and one of his former students picked me up at the airport. I didn’t seem to have any reason for being there; I had just felt like going to Chicago. I knew a lot of people there. There was an anthropologist at the Field Museum who I thought Peter might like to meet. Maybe I’d go see her and take Peter and he would enjoy her company. We drove into the city, talking about how Peter had just sent three hundred students to a summer institute in Boulder. They would write poems and meet other poets. I sat on a bus. It took me to a part of the city that I enjoyed. A little neighborhood at the edge of the city. It crouched under a vast rock cliff, towering hundreds of feet up.
Several years after the first Harry Potter book appeared, one night I looked at it briefly. I stood there holding it and it said to me, You’re the wrong demographic – you’re too old and too serious and I bet you sometimes read while wearing a suit and tie. You’d better put me back on the shelf.
So the other night when I stopped in at Barbed Wire Books to pick up my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Kathe plucked it from the shelf and placed it in my hand and I stared at the cover. I didn’t really stare; just a glance. But I said to myself, Yes, I remember looking at this book long ago. I picked it up at a bookstore in Denver and I glanced through it and I set it down and I moved on with the rest of my life.
The cover art by Mary Grandpré said something interesting to me. It said that this book would take me to the frivolous side of life, where readers don’t wear very credible suits and ties when they read. But I also felt a sudden chiming of an echo. One of my favorite artists is Jim Buckles and the cover dimly echoed Jim Buckles. I sure didn’t expect to stand in the bookstore and feel a Jim Buckles aesthetic resonation. And the book felt oddly light in my hand, as if hovering – made of the essences of broomsticks with caped riders. Sure, I said to myself, I’ll read it.
I followed Kathe and Kelly to the back of the bookstore to inspect the new project. Someone had been sawing wood there. I wondered whether I could slide across the room on the sawdust, but I knew I was too old for that. I wouldn’t care to get my suit and tie wrinkled – the invisible suit and tie that I apparently wear under my Grey Havens t-shirt.
When the man who manufactured all the sawdust entered, I said, Well, it’s a great room but where are you going to put the round door? Kathe gently smiled at my sidelong humor. She poised herself to explain to him what my comment meant. But the fellow joined right in and offered to paint one on the actual rectangular door. We all stood there and grinned at each other.
So later that night when I opened the book it crackled, as if very old. But it somehow had a limber air. Maybe it wanted to be young forever but it couldn’t help itself as the swift years slowly crept up on it. I wondered at the vibes from the previous reader. Was this book good to the young reader who held it, who turned these elderly pages one by one when they were young pages? It seemed in good condition. Perhaps it just got read once and twelve years later the owner felt ready to move on forever and the book entered Barbed Wire Books and here it was now and now I would read it.
In the first chapter I encountered a man riding a motorcycle out of thin air. I felt… well, there was this dream I had last January, you see, and… And the next afternoon I began to read Chapter Two, “The Vanishing Class.” Harry Potter tries to recall a slippery dream in which “There had been a flying motorcycle.” I set the book down.
One late night last January I dreamed that a man murmured, “The Lost Wind Sailor Lake,” and the next early afternoon I dreamed of falling motorcycles and I wrote down both dreams. I liked the lost wind dream, but the motorcycle dream was strange and unsettling.
Looking down at my old new Harry Potter book, I thought of that dream for a moment and I decided that I didn’t care if this book’s pages had somehow gotten older than its target demographic. I would read them anyway. Maybe Harry Potter would be fun and frivolous. Maybe Harry Potter would be strange and unsettling.
Peter had a cabin here. He stayed at his house in the city and let me use his cabin. We sat outside under a lip of the rock-face as Peter finished reading my manuscript – my family history. He thought it seemed ready to publish. I looked up to see a motorcycle club sitting high up upon the cliff. One of them gunned his bike and flew to a ledge and tumbled down the cliff. I watched in horror as the man and his bike bounced down toward us. We crouched in the rock shelter with Peter’s dog – a very pleasant and happy Irish setter. The biker landed just outside. Then another. Another. Then several at once. Maybe thirty bikers and their bikes lay around the shelter when it ended. Not all were dead. But none had succeeded. They had this odd religious belief about what would happen if they succeeded in getting their bikes down the rock face, moving from ledge to ledge. Peter seemed to take this in stride. Waking, I thought he would have enjoyed meeting that Field Museum anthropologist. Maybe next time, Peter.