The State of the Union


In 2010, on a journey to the quiet mill town of Athol in the state of Massachusetts in the United States, I woke at dawn one morning and saw a deliciously thick fog outside. On this morning, the sunshine proved too intense, too quickly and I only found a single image: a small house on Silver Lake Street with the sign This is the State of the Union. The sound of cheery classical music belied the grim condition of the exterior.

I made a couple of exposures and continued walking down the road. After several minutes, I heard someone calling "hey, hello, you!" A fellow with a moustache and long hair asked me if I was taking photos of his house and would I like to know the meaning behind the sign.

Despite his somewhat flustered manner (he had run quite a long way to catch up to me), he seemed engaging so I accepted his offer of coffee and a chat. He had recently bought the house and the interior was sparsely furnished, but startlingly new and in fine nick. He and I talked for nearly an hour about his time in the military as a mechanic repairing jets, the scandal of the bank bailouts. He explained the meaning of the sign:

"Isn't me that's lost it, it's them." He quoted a Melissa Etheridge lyric: "'they never woke up from the American dream'. We all think we're that we're equal, we all can achieve greatness. So everybody's entitled to a house and a car and a family. But that's not the way it is anymore. But people are still living that illusion. And so when I sat in the chair and looked out, I saw all these people who competing with a system that's falling apart from the inside."

He also read me several of his poems and I recorded a piece about knights and magicians.

Listen: MP3 of the poem, Enchantment