About “The Ochre Chair”

There was a beautiful little home design shop in Rochester called Bellissima that Tina and I would often shop in while walking the town. Right at the corner of Third and Main, it was next to the Coffee Beanery, which was more or less the best coffee available in town before Starbucks moved in — and then out again — and their proximity made a coffee and a stroll through Bellissima a pretty routine outing for us. We bought a few lamps there, which only recently made their way into someone else’s hands via a tag sale (as Martha Stewart would call it), and assorted other knickknacks of life. But there was one opportunity we missed.

As it turns out, the narrative of the poem is very realistic. We loved a painting in the store called “The Ochre Chair,” an interior with a prominent chair and its interesting ochre color. It was priced in a range that was affordable yet not something that you would pick up on a whim. We waited and waited to see how fate would resolve the tension for us. Would it be purchased by someone else? Would we find an extra balance in our account at the end of one month or another? Or would we decide that, in the end, we didn’t like it enough to acquire it?

None of these more obvious omens materialized. Finally, we wore ourselves down when we decided precisely where it should go in our house and we walked into town to buy it. Inside the store, the painting seemed suddenly more beautiful because it was finally going to be ours — and by some miracle they were having a sale. As anticipation is more satisfying than realization, we chose to intensify the retail pleasure by elongating it, walking through the store to see what else might interest us and even going to their small upstairs loft where linens and bath items were extravagantly displayed.

There is a moment in the Seinfeld episode “The Statue” in which Elaine is arguing with the writer Rava in an elevator about whether Rava’s husband stole a statue while he was cleaning Jerry’s apartment:

ELAINE: Well, I mean, he was in the apartment, and then it’s gone and it’s in your apartment.
RAVA: Maybe you think we’re in cahoots.
ELAINE: No, no. But it is quite a coincidence.
RAVA: Yes, that’s all: a coincidence!
ELAINE: A big coincidence.
RAVA: Not a big coincidence. A coincidence!
ELAINE: No, that’s a big coincidence.
RAVA: That’s what a coincidence is! There are no small coincidences and big coincidences!
ELAINE: No, there are degrees of coincidences.
RAVA: No, there are only coincidences! Ask anyone!

(Enraged, she poses the question to everyone in the elevator.)

RAVA: Are there big coincidences and small coincidences, or just coincidences? Well?! Well?!

I’m not sure where I land on the question of the measurements of coincidences, but I have to say when Tina and I came down the stairs of Bellissima, on the corner of Third and Main, in this little store and town we loved, filled with joy about a painting we had thought about for a long time, we were more than surprised to see that the wall on which it had hung was empty. Outside, a woman was placing a large parcel into her trunk. We turned to the clerk in despair. Fate had decided.

Since Bellissima is no longer in business, Dave had to go out in search of another photo. Here’s his caption, which I found particularly funny knowing that I’m not the one who chose that color:

To start with, yes, I had to look up ochre. Who calls a color ochre? Driving home one night I saw the furniture store on US-31 and made a mental note to drive back by after dark when the lights would play up the inside. So 11pm, after a Burger King run, I drove in and shot this, and a few others. But the words on the door “Sunday – Closed to be with family” in this one resonated with the group. There’s probably some ochre in this shot somewhere. To find it, start with a dictionary.

The front door of VanDrie Furniture in Traverse City, taken May 4th, 2011, at 11pm. DL

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About “Misproportioned”

Every once in a while you have to write a sad little poem, a poem that, if it were matched with a day of the week, would naturally pair up with Monday. “Misproportioned” is a Monday poem.

As far as inspiration, I remember watching a documentary about furniture in which Shaker chairs were discussed. The narrator indicated that every piece of Shaker furniture, though it seemed so perfect in execution, was always deliberately flawed in some manner as a gesture honoring the belief that only God could make something perfect. A little bit of research has indicated that either this documentary or my memory is flawed, as it seems no such Shaker method is widely documented. Similar ideas, such as the Persian flaw, the humble square, and wabi-sabi, do appear to have more merit.

The black and white, misshapenly beautiful, clearly-not-a-Monday rock that Andy captured in Hawaii felt like a good geometrical companion for the poem. Here’s his photobiography:

During a vacation to Hawaii a few years back, my wife and I decided to take a day trip to the island of Lanai. During the excursion, we visited Manele Bay and, while exploring the island, discovered a spectacular lava boulder rising from the sea. We watched in awe for nearly an hour as different species of birds landed and departed as if the rock were an international airport. We snapped some photos and continued to explore the island. After the tour was finished, we returned to our hotel and decided to research our discovery. According to Hawaiian legend, a beautiful woman named Puupehe was relaxing in one of the caves at the base of the rock. Suddenly, a storm arose and she perished in the cave. Her lover, a warrior named Makakehau, discovered Puupehe’s body and carried it to the top. He buried her and, when finished, jumped to his death 150 feet below. The landmark is now named Sweetheart Rock after the local legend.

Sweetheart Rock, Manele Bay, Lanai, HI. AS

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About “Flowers”

Flowers” is a reference to the same time as “The Rains,” when Tina and I were just married and living on Fourth Street in Rochester. I was working in Detroit and she in Southfield, and despite the drive I often reached home before her, particularly during her busy tax season, and started dinner. It describes a moment of anticipation, of patience, a routine boredom that is not unpleasant, just empty, an interstitial space, a crease in time.

Though Dave’s photo comes from another small Michigan town, the reference to the American landscape that it makes is such a strong match to the view we had out of our flat that for a second I wondered how he had gotten into our old place. Here is his caption:

Another shot during my “wandering TC in the rain” day. This was from the top of the parking deck in downtown. It was initially considered for “The Rains” as its scene approximates the first lines of that poem, and it stayed in that position for some time. Roger said it reminded him of the actual place he lived in at the time, and I thought “score one for the empathic photographer.” Later in the project, after having various versions of flowers selected for this poem (far too obvious and perhaps shallow), and on probably my 20th read of the poems, I was struck by the fact that the imagery of the poem was not about the flowers, but had a much more somber feel. I began to think that a photo which echoed this feel would add to the Roger’s juxtaposition of the title versus the image. On one of the days we got together to review, I announced my new found revelation and was greeted with a round of “yeah… we were thinking that, too.” A new image jumped into my head of a street in St. Clair Shores, MI, where a close friend of mine used to live. An image of a late pre-winter evening, with a cold rain, and a hot cup of tea for the ride home through a stick-tree canopy over the suburban street. We didn’t have time for a trip downstate that also required a change of seasons to get it right. This photo comes close to that mental memory, and we decided to do some re-arranging.

I’ll only add that I will score two for the empathic photographer.

A shot from the top of the parking deck in downtown Traverse City looking south. Also shot on the April 16th rain-shoot. DL

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