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.
“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.
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.
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“Could a stone resist the law of gravity? Impossible. Impossible that evil should form an alliance with good. I have stated this before.” — Comte de Lautréamont, The Songs of Maldoror
Gravity has been an obsession of mine since childhood. I think it started when I heard the legend of Newton; I subsequently kept my head up whenever within the drip line of apple trees. I spent a lot of time in high school and the first year of college studying physics and hoped to one day learn more about this invisible attraction. What is it? How does it work? Is it a form a magnetism (ah, the metaphors: gravity is love!) or the curved paths of space-time? Is it a transmission of undetectable particles or waves?
We still don’t know. How is it possible that something that affects nearly everything about us — our movements, our shape, the fundamental design of our bodies, our earth, our galaxy, even the sports we play — is still such an unknown entity here in the 21st century? It is both maddening and a somber reminder of how, despite our progress, even the most basic knowledge evades us. We know so little. This little poem is just another take on this mystical force and what it might mean if we ever decipher it.
Andy’s photo felt like a nice complement from the very beginning of the project. Here are his notes on its capture:
A few months after getting married in 2009, my wife and I decided to spend a week vacationing in Maui. One evening we took a walk down Kaanapali beach and stopped for dinner at the fantastic Hula Grill. We were very excited to eat fish tacos while watching the sun retreat into the horizon. Unfortunately, a cloud system rolled in and foiled our plans but just as we were finishing up, a hole opened in the clouds and shot a ray of light towards the heavens. I yanked out my camera gear and captured one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed.