Earlier this year, on my morning to commute from Traverse City to Interlochen, specifically on 31 heading west of the ill-named Chums Corner, a red pickup capped with a yellow flasher parked on the side of the road had emitted its driver. Apparently his job was to shovel the carcasses of those animals who didn’t make the crossing into the bed. It reminded me how fortunate I was not to have that job.
The commute provides many glimpses into the lives of others, more typically as they speed by, six feet away from a head-on collision, projecting a two-second scene from their lives: the coffee drinker, the fast-food eater, the cell-phone talker, the sing-alonger, the arguers, the smoker, the emotionless mirrored-sunglass wearer who may or may not be staring you down. It is a strangely public but private place of transport.
We had a heck of a time finding a photo to pair with this poem and it was the last of the book to fall, finally, into place, as Dave recounts here:
This poem bugged me. I had a vision in my mind of what I wanted, which failed to materialize in my distinctly nascent amateur efforts. After taking several that as a group we rejected for one reason or another, this poem was one of the last to have a “decided upon” photo. We had our self-imposed, yet very real, deadline approaching and Roger had directed “We just need a shot of a road.” So on my way into work the next morning I stopped halfway up a stretch of road I have affectionately named “the tangle” due to its hilly twisty ability to give me pause in the middle of the dark snowy winters here. I liked the look of the newly surfaced road (notice they hadn’t even painted the lane lines yet) and the sultry sky to the north. Andy, Roger and Michael liked it well enough too, just in time to go to press.
I don’t remember exactly, but I have a suspicion that this poem was born out of the confluence of two memories: the life-altering book On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins, which proposes a memory-prediction model of the brain, and these lines from the Counting Crows song “Mrs. Potters Lullaby:”
If dreams are like movies
then memories are films about ghosts.
One of On Intelligence‘s many proposals is the idea that memory is identity: an amnesiac feels disconnected from the self she was — and, in many real ways, is no longer that person as the shared recollections and experiences that form interpersonal relationships have vanished with her ability to recall the past: the “films about ghosts” that defined her have stopped playing at the local theatre. I find the implications of this idea — that you can forget who you are and in the process literally stop being you — unsettling.
Andy posted this wonderful shot to Facebook back in August 2010 and it immediately impressed me. I love the quiet violence of the blue storm rolling in and the framed geometry of the architecture. Even the building’s vibrant color is striking, capped by the mildly imposing red spire. And, in all this drama, far to the right, a lighted window beckons: someone inside is reading Rimbaud.
Here’s Andy’s description:
For those of you that don’t know, there is an amazing project underway in Traverse City called The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. From 1847 to 1895, 35 insane asylums were built across the United States following a similar design and concept developed by Dr. Terry Kirkbirde. The buildings were very beautiful, very large, and very expensive to maintain. Unfortunately, throughout the 20th century, most were shut down and ultimately demolished. One of the buildings that was closed but survived demolition was the Northern Michigan hospital; in 2000, it was purchased by Raymond Minervini of the Minervini Group. Ray had a vision to transform the dilapidated buildings into a mixed-use community with condos, businesses, restaurants, and shopping. Eleven years after starting The Village, he has turned what was once a dangerous eye sore into a jewel that has even been profiled by the New York Times.
Shortly after moving to Traverse City in 2009, my wife and I were fortunate to live at The Village for a year in an amazing condo. One fall evening a storm was rolling in and I snapped this photo of Cottage 20, which was formerly the men’s receiving ward, from our balcony.
I wrote “The Rains” in the fall of 1993. Tina and I had just married in July and were living in an upper flat in Rochester — 428 W. Fourth St., to be exact, an address that is still tattooed in our memory. Rochester was a great first place for us, though commuting to downtown Detroit every day, especially in winter, left a bit to be desired. If you aren’t familiar with it, Rochester is a small old town with great shops and restaurants shoulder-to-shoulder on Main Street, an impressive tree canopy, a fantastic public library, and a beautiful municipal park with a river winding through it. It is not the worst place to be in love.
As I write this note eighteen years later, I’m reminded of the same Michigan fall atmosphere that I attempted to evoke in the poem. The amazing colors are slowly drowned out by incessant rains. Everything is wet. An umbrella should be in hand at all times but rarely is. The windshield wipers are permanently on and stand at attention even when the car is turned off. The sweaters come out and the darkness seeps in earlier and earlier. After the glittering months of summer, time becomes reflective and we turn to homework and reading.
Dave captured the two photos that surround the poem in the printed book. He wrote:
I remember still feeling relatively “new” to the Traverse City area and the thought of deliberately heading out to find “rainy” pictures felt adventurous. I hadn’t seen the Boardman River that runs through the city so up close and personal, and was taken with the rhythmic rippling of the drops in the water. I was still conscious about getting my equipment wet so I took these standing under a low viaduct looking out into the river.