How to Banish Unwanted Night Visitors Who Hide Under the Bed

I’ve found something that might help us all wrestle with our own nightmares

by Elisavietta Ritchie

A fourth-grader kept dropping his head to the desk and napping during one of my early poetry-in-the-schools residencies in southern Maryland. Usually everyone is listening, then fiercely writing their own poems. Not that boy.

“What’s wrong? Are you ill? Not enough sleep?” I imagined watching television late, or parental dissensions, to blame.

He shook his head. “No, I get to bed on time. It’s the nightmares!”

“Every night the same?”

“More or less,” he answered, rubbing his eyes. ‘It’s the monsters who hide under my bed, in my closet …” He found Halloween especially scary.

Out of nowhere, I devised a recipe for banishing ghosts and monsters. “And,” I added, “this could be especially useful with Halloween, when they legally have their night on the town...”

When in the night the beast — dragon, monster or merely a lion who vaguely resembles your cat — leaps from the dark closet or under your bed, or swings from the overhead lamp, switch on your flashlight. (You tested the batteries just yesterday, the bulb’s good.)

Speak six magic words that only you know. No, don’t tell me, they are your secret.

If that monster still does not disappear, offer him pretzels: The salt will make him so thirsty, he must leave to find water.

Quickly, quietly, close your door, take a deep breath, write a poem. Describe how he looks and how brave you are. Then get back into bed, sleep peacefully until dawn.

To test my recipe, I suggested everyone write poems to banish nightmares, and though a few insisted all their dreams were good ones, or they did not dream, all set to work writing dream poems good or bad. That boy scribbled faster than anyone else in the class.

When I walked in the next day, he ran up to me, whispering, “It worked! The monster ran away! If he sneaks back, I’ll bash him over the head!”

During our year throughout Australia, while in the opal-mining town of Cober Pedy in the desert, I was invited to give such a poetry workshop in a school there. I didn’t imagine those 10- and 12-year-olds living so far from the ocean would relate to my usual prompts of poems about whales and dolphins, crabbing and oystering. So after presenting some poems on other subjects, I asked if anyone had nightmares.

A forest of hands shot up, so I gave them my recipe for banishing nightmares, and they all wrote for the rest of the period.

On the dusty main street a day later, a little girl in pigtails ran up. “It worked! My younger brother always had nightmares, but I read him your poem, and it worked!”

Seldom have I felt as honored, as vindicated as by that nameless child.

Halloween or not, I’ve found something like this can work for adults, too, including our wounded warriors from various wars, as they wrestle with their own nightmares, their monsters lurking in closets and just beyond the walls ...

Elisavietta Ritchie, author of 15 books and chapbooks, is poet-in-the-schools and leads the workshop “Re-Create Your Life: Creative Memoir Writing” at the Calvert Library in Prince Frederick. She lives on the Patuxent River.

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