Illinois

underneath the heavy sky, the highway shines

a razor blade cutting down to bone

nothing left to do but hold the wheel and drive

the dark of night, the dim light on the road

all the way from Illinois, a thousand miles of waiting for

a gentle touch, a kind believing word

all the way from Illinois, and not one to be heard

 

tell me all the ways to make a day go by

in an airplane high above the earth

or standing in the kitchen in an awful fight

the brightly colored blood of ugly words

all the way from illinois, a box of clothes, a can of oil

the promise of a place to settle down

all the way from illinois, and not one to be found

 

and nothing hurts like crying on a long drive home

nothing worse than hiding in the dark alone

from the beautiful lights of a dangerous love

 

a shattered glass photograph of a broken heart

a crack along the windshield of the world

the shape of something running in the untame dark

the howling out of freedom and of hurt

all the way from Illinois, the radio, the rain, the road

the dream of finding out just what is love

all the way from Illinois, and turns out nothing was

Dark Chandelier

Tommy lies drunk on his own front lawn

at three in the morning, his work shirt still on

he curses the man, and he curses his boss

and a cloud rolls past and the night grows dark

 

thirty-one years on the factory floor

the grease and the motor, the seven to four

and the face of his daughter, no child anymore

his wife and his mother, his life and his love

 

the heat and the rise of a burning shame

the pride in the work and the years that he gave

just a flick of a pen, just a cold handshake

what’s a man really worth at the end of the day

 

and Tommy he stands and the rain starts to fall

he catches his step, and he heads for the car

and he drives past the factory lights in the dark

just a man out of work, and a man out of luck

 

the bars all empty, the town asleep

he presses the pedal, he tears up the street

to the edge of the town, where the highway leads

to the end of the world, to the end of a dream

 

and racing the headlights, the clouds never clear

he’s revving the engine, he’s stripping the gears

the moon on the asphalt, his face in the mirror

the rain coming down like a dark chandelier

 

and the radio blasting, a song about home

he’s flying so fast, he’s leaving the ground

and the beautiful lights as he’s spinning around

and the silent night when the lights go out

 

and Tommy he wakes with the blood on his face

the moon up above, and the cool falling rain

he feels his body, and he hears his name

in the scream of the siren, in the heat of the flame

 

he calls for his daughter in the thick black night

he tells that he loves her, he yells for his wife

and he sees her above him, her dark, sad eyes

and he pleads with his god, and he bargains with time

 

and the rain falls harder, it washes away

the blood and the fire, the fear and the shame

and the sirens arrive and he screams and he prays

to the moon in the sky, to the stars and the rain

 

and nothing but mercy, the angels press

the gold of their robes to the well of his breast

and he opens his eyes, and he quietly says

don’t take me tonight, i got work to do yet

Riverside hotel

monday morning sidewalk man, sits back to watch the show

the rebar and the wet cement, transistor radio

he takes a pull from a paper bag, across the street on an old park bench

the big machines and rolled blueprints, stir something in his soul

 

a memory comes winding through the ruin of his mind

the hardhats and the heavy boots, the nail gun’s ringing whine

a jungle with the same sharp sound, his brothers falling all around

they built them up, just to tear them down, and left him half alive

 

someday i’m gonna laugh about it, looking down from heaven’s golden plain

but for now i found some peace down by the water, just to watch a building rise up in the rain

 

he waits each day til evening comes, the men all drive away

the echo of their hammers linger, voices slowly fade

the lights along the path come on, the scaffolding a skeleton

all the things he dreamed and then forgot, the promises he made

 

someday i’m gonna laugh about it, looking down from heaven’s golden plain

but for now i found some peace down by the water, just to watch a building rise up in the rain

 

and the moon shines on the river like a dream, and he smokes a cigarette and falls asleep

and the wind it wanders slow through empty rooms without their walls

and a silence settles over everything

 

and from the ground it rises up, a riverside hotel

the sidewalk man, he comes to watch near every day until

the ribbon cut and the curtains hung, the reservations filled and gone

and the owner tells him move along, go linger somewhere else

 

someday i’m gonna laugh about it, looking down from heaven’s golden plain

but for now i found some peace down by the water, just to watch a building rise up in the rain

All Along

there you go just rolling, like a hubcap on the highway

loosed and looking for a shoulder you ain’t never leaned upon

and freedom’s just believing in the weight behind your reasons

call it fate or just a feeling, call it anything you want

 

if you get lost in California, turn around and head back northbound til you’re home

honey I have loved you all along

 

like lightning on a hillside, you have cracked and raged and destroyed

you have lit up, burned and glowed like you ain’t never gonna die

and love is just a fire, it feeds and fades and embers fly

and you been trying to get it right ever since the flint first touched the stone

 

if you get lost along the highway, let the north star and Orion lead you home

honey I have loved you all along

 

there you go just running, like a color, like an engine

you got ninety miles to get back to the place where you were born

and truth is just a sound you make, when no one else is listening

and the blue and bitter wind has left you feeling mighty low

 

if you get lost and you get lonely, know that somewhere I am singing you this song

honey I have loved you all along

Look Away

and if you go walking, in a world made of stars
the neon reflection, of your face in the dark
and the heat of the city, in the curve of your palm
look away, my darling, look away my loved one

and god bless the terror, that brings you to bed
your lily white knuckles, your bruising, your breath
from the dark where you called out, and the things that you said
look away, my darling, look away my dear friend

you’re not alone, you’re not alone, you’re not alone

and under your eyelids, it’s quiet, it’s safe
but he stole the sun from where it lay on your face
and never a day you don’t cry out to wake
look away, my darling, look away, look away
look away, my darling, look away, look away

and how deep the water that carries you home
the warm cotton smell of the clean forest floor
and drifting in dreams, let it go, let it go
look away, my darling, look away from it all
look away, my darling, look away from it all

Dial Tone

it’s just you, at the window pane, if you breathe just right you can write your name
just a couple of lines, in a liars game
and nobody’s listening anyway

it’s just you, at the marketplace, with your basket full up of empty space
and nothing to buy, but time to waste
and nobody’s listening anyway

you do all your talking, in a one way telephone
just a lonely voice that craves the sound of its echo
you’re the dial tone

it’s just you, making all those plans, what you gonna do, who you do it with
and the roads all end up circling
and nobody’s listening anyway

it’s just you, waking up at night, with a dream so real, you were sure you died
you were falling, fighting, man you were flying
and nobody’s listening anyway

you do all your talking, in a one way telephone
just a lonely voice that craves the sound of its echo
you’re the dial tone

it’s just you, at the window pane, if you breathe just right you can breathe again
just a couple of days, in a year of rain
and nobody’s listening anyway

 

 

Alleyway

smoke against the windowpane, just the semis breathing on the interstate

a gray upon the graying of October

hey honey it’s been so long, i got so lost, so far down

the tracks of an old abandoned rollercoaster

see the wheels fell off, and the rails all rusted over

 

i remember you that night, in the noisy bar, in the yellow light

the radiating heat between our shoulders

and i know good things never last, i know that now but i didn’t then

and i let you lead me blind around the corner

 

but sometimes still at night i dream, an empty bottle in the alleyway

on a night so clear a billion stars are born

and each one is a world i guess, of dust and flame and wishes cast

by lovers hoping love will last til morning

 

we tried a while to make it good, you hid the cans, i played the fool

you got some work, i got sick in the mornings

but you lost that job, and we got kicked out

hey babe, ain’t nothing to cry about

and you said you’d send some cash from california

 

but sometimes still at night i dream, an empty bottle in the alleyway

on a night so clear a billion stars are born

and each one is a world i guess, of dust and flame and wishes cast

by lovers hoping love will last til morning

 

now i got work, down the street, cleaning rooms at the super 8

sometimes i take the path home by the river

and i wonder what our daughter’s like, i hope that family treats her right

and gives her all the things we couldn’t give her

 

now a dream is all that’s left of you, i guess some folks are born to lose

some kids are born for someone else’s cradle

and the days go by, i get along, the air grows cool and the leaves fall

and the smoke it moves and fades against the window

 

Last cigarette

you woke and the window wide open, your pillow, all wet from the rain in the night

the trail of a siren, the red and white neon, a broken reflection, a cry

just a girl in the alley, a bicycle bell, and the last cigarette won’t light

 

you rode to the cafe, your apron, the coffee, the soft-dripping faucet, the radio news

and Joe on the line, all the burns on his arms, and his girlfriend at home with a yellowing bruise

just a girl in the alley, the trash and the last cigarette dropping ash on your shoes

 

you closed in the quiet, the bleach rag, the bucket, the bicycle rusted outside in the rain

you rode in the dark, sat and smoked on the porch, and the neighbor dog barked and the traffic light changed

just a girl in the alley, the stars coming out and the last cigarette of the day

Highest Building

don’t you got a way of spinning a story

don’t you got a way of stoking a fire

and the radio man and the newsprint chorus

they’re weaving it into the bright headlines

don’t you got a way of making a mistake

don’t you got a way of calling it right

don’t you got a way of taking a good thing

and strangling out the last bit of light

 

in the palm of your hand is a worn out dollar

you stole from a man on the subway steps

with a cardboard sign said thank the father

but you ain’t spoke no thank you yet

don’t you got a way of making a mistake

don’t you got a way of calling it right

don’t you got a way of getting off easy

don’t you got a way of telling a lie

 

and the sun beats on the highest building

and a shadow on the street below

and there ain’t no fixing what’s been broken

and there ain’t no price for what’s been sold

 

don’t you got a way of talking in circles

don’t you got a way of talking too loud

don’t you got a way of taking the fearful

and making them hate everybody else

don’t you got a way of making a mistake

don’t you got a way of calling it right

don’t you got a way of taking a good thing

and strangling out the last bit of light

Small Believer

Red-tail hawk on a split-rail fence

The gathering dark of the night begins

Cicada choir on the rising wind

A lonesome beauty over everything

 

And winding highway let me make it home

I’m broken down, i’m skin and bone

And all this dreaming i’ve been living on

The silver water and the red-tail hawk

 

Graceful waitress on a wooden floor

An amber glass upon an empty bar

A drunkard swaying when the music starts

The neon praying of the steel guitar

 

And small believer i’m alive i guess

The whiskey mixing with a dream i had

The music lifting me above the bed

The silver trumpet and the clarinet

 

And all i know is what i see

A tattered hope, a small belief

kaleidoscope of half-lived dreams

A photograph of something sweet

 

And winding highway let me hold the sound

Of coming home, of turning down

The unpaved roads of this old town

The clover fields and rows of corn

 

And small believer i’m alive i guess

The whiskey mixing with a dream i had

The music lifting me above the bed

The silver trumpet and the clarinet

Yeah small believer i’m alive i guess

The red-tail hawk and the split-rail fence

The neighbor girl in her yellow dress

Oh the silhouette that her shadow casts

Black Balloon

storm coming in, and hail the size of quarters
turn the radio down, yeah they’re always trying to warn you
with the static crying and the water rising on road
but you built this place out of lust and blood, dug the lines to feed it, fed the bones you dug
to the dogs come creeping all mange and mud, their wild eyes shining at you, starved for love
get back little doggies, i am not your man
i was never the savior of anything
just a hungry laborer, reticent, to belong to a world that so soon forgets

storm coming in, and you are no performer
but your hair stands up for the thunder of a story
and the night is howling and the hawks and owls calling your name
so you climb to the roof where you can see the town, and the cars all packed
hatches boarded down
and the trees bent back, till they kiss the ground, limbs all awry, limbs all around
snap back sweet branches i am not alone
i was never the champion of anyone
just a hungry man, all flesh and bone, dug deep inside of my sunken home

but they’ll never find me, now that i’m flying, oh how they’ll weep and moan
i’ll be a tale to tell, a page to fill and sell, the man who closed the eye of the storm

storm coming in, and people say they saw it
just a hungry man, with his arms out on the turret
like a raven’s wings, they can’t even be certain what they saw
but he took to the sky like a black balloon, rising higher and higher in the storm he flew
like a warning beacon, like the rectitude, like fire
get back little brother, close the kitchen door
there is nobody out there in the thunderstorm
just a hungry soul, rising from the floor, to the sky
but they’ll never find me, now that i’m flying, oh how they’ll weep and moan
i’ll be a tale to tell, a page to fill and sell, the man who closed the eye of the storm

Slow Motion

everything is magical in slow motion
the way you tilt your head under the sun
and maybe it’s just yearning for a deep moment
the heated kiss of heroes waking up

but no one ever told you it would be perfect
and dreaming sometimes dresses like regret
and better men have failed to get the light working
they just stumbled in the dark for years i guess

and the slow motion color of the empty interstate, like the warm light of a lover when the day begins to break, on the bluest sunday morning that the angels ever made, before they flew away

and the LA wind is hardly even blowing
you got the number dialed, but you don’t call
you don’t believe your words are worth the motion
you don’t believe your tears are worth the salt

but you better tell your loved ones that you love them
says the man beside the fence down at the park
and i drove across this country to the bottom
it’s beautiful, but man it broke my heart

it’s getting late we probably should get going
the dogs are glowing ghostly in the dusk
another perfect stranger looking lonesome
another moment slow and warm and hushed

and everything is magical in slow motion
the way you tilt your cheek against the blade
and maybe it’s just yearning for a true moment
on the bluest morning angels ever made

Two Pencils and a Photograph

before i left, i wasn’t anyone
a poor laborer’s lonely son
and i dreamed of women, gold and guns
but they were only dreams

then called a cause that needed me
my sleight of hand and my strong belief
for the west it reigns in a sinful beast
that threatens everything

but swing that hammer, it’s an awful shame
to watch a paper fall, from a stranger’s hand
where’s the glory in all of that
couple pencils and a photograph

the day i left, my mama cried
but i was proud to go, proud to fight
and a blood red sun rose in the sky
and i bent my body east

i found my brothers in the sand
all that artillery and promising
and we bravely faced the task at hand
to cut and kill the beast

took a plane, fulfilled my place
a crowded market and an office space
and the heat of heaven, that metallic taste
and i watched that paper fall

i came to slay, i came to serve
my weapon’s weight against the written word
and i cried out allah and he cried my lord
heaven help us all

Shadow of a Son

when the buildings turn to tall grass, and the yellow lights to stars
and the flag lies down at half mast, like a thousand times before
mother don’t forget the letters, sister don’t forget to breathe
i am standing at your doorstep, you are down upon your knees

will you taste what i have tasted, would you feel what i have felt
i don’t need you to erase it, i just need a little help
father close the door behind you, i am not the man i was
i am standing at your doorstep, just a shadow of a son

will you wake me if i’m screaming, will you love me if i run
doesn’t mean i didn’t mean it, when i slipped that promise on you
and darling don’t pour out the whiskey, you are still so beautiful
i am standing at your doorstep, we will never win this war
i am standing at your doorstep, we will never win

if they call me i will be there, shine my boots and hold my breath
maybe i’ll come back a hero, laid to rest beneath the flag
but please don’t forget to tell them, everything that i have done
i am standing at your doorstep, i am handing you my gun
i am standing at your doorstep, i am handing you my gun
i’ll be standing at your doorstep, if i’m ever coming home

Wild Blue Field

i lay down in the wild blue field of your bed
above us the peeled paint and prayers
i wanted to know what the angels said
they breathed your name i swear

and i know that you’re tired of your life on the edge
the corners and cracks of a cage
but deep in the wild blue field of your bed
only a dream remains

so take my good fortune and take my belief
you’re leaving before i wake
may beautiful dreaming and the sweetest release
follow you all through the day

i lay down in the wild blue field of your bed
above us the stars and the stains
i wanted to know what the angels said
i swear they breathed your name

and i know you’re afraid to be loved, to be left
but fences they fall and they fade
and deep in the wild blue field of your bed
only a dream remains

and take my good fortune and take my belief
you’re leaving before i wake
may beautiful dreaming and the sweetest release
follow you all through the day
and take my belongings, the salt from my skin
my body lies bent and between
a beautiful highway where lovers have been
and the wild blue field where they dream

 

 

 
 

Saturday Night

the only light in the basement apartment, a blue tv glow through the blinds

the flicker and din in the dark of a Saturday night

a raven’s asleep in the rafters, a stray cat circles a kill

from the basement, the tin-can laughter of a late night thrill

 

tomorrow’s asleep on the front step, and yesterday dreams in the street

but in the basement apartment, a shadowy man, he just stares at the wall

he can’t sleep

and me I’m just part of the darkness, just trying to get something right

on a Saturday night

 

and this all reminds me of something, the song of a long ago time

a memory pure and haunting on a Saturday night

and I don’t have all of the answers, I don’t have even a few

but two shadows above me were dancing and I thought of you

 

tomorrow’s asleep on the front step, and yesterday dreams in the street

but in the basement apartment, a shadowy man, he just stares at the wall

he can’t sleep

and me I’m just part of the darkness, just trying to get something right

on a Saturday night

 

the only light in the basement apartment, the flicker and fade of time

the heavy and hopeful heart of a Saturday night

of a Saturday night

Blue world

there’s a shine to a night like this

to the way your body moves

and the lines of your silhouette

and the rise of your fragile bones

and the lift of the whispered wind

and a song that you never heard

and you’re riding on silver wings

and you’re leaving the blue world

 

and the bells of the mission ring

and the bricks bring an echo back

there’s a glow and it’s covering

everything in its gentle path

and you dreamed of a night like this

and the call of a fallen bird

and the beauty of it all is

that you’re leaving the blue world

 

and no one to call your name

and no one to bring a rose

and you come to the heavy gate

and you open it all alone

and a wild magnolia blooms

on the damp uncovered earth

and the twist of the tangled roots

and you’re leaving the blue world

and you rise like an ember caught

in the smoke of a single flame

like the candle a lover brought

just to light a beloved face

there’s a shine to a night like this

and the stars never fell so near

and your soul like a golden gift

and it rises and disappears

Ordinary Dance

come up to the house and ring the bell

beware the second step is rotted through

and all across the lawn the fallen leaves

behind the door the shuffling of feet

 

a face appears between the parted blinds

just haunted by the heaviness of time

click the lock and slowly creak the door

and nobody remembers anymore

 

nobody remembers anymore, it’s just another story that never got told

an ordinary dance across an ordinary floor

nobody remembers anymore

inside the house the air it doesn’t move

a tv set recycling the news

pictures on the table by the stairs

just gathering the dust of passing years

 

everything is changing in this town

the supermarket aisles are bright and loud

telephones and complicated wars

and nobody remembers anymore

 

oh, oh my god, i wanted to do something great

oh, but i loved, and i guess that’ll do anyway

 

all the kids are grown and gone away

you know times were tough but they turned out ok

they come to visit once or twice a year

they clean the gutter, fix the broken stair

 

who will ever know the time is right

the lucky ones they just turn out the light

close their eyes and let their breathing slow

and nobody remembers anymore

The Lines and the Tide

an old box of tools and a bible, a coffee can half full of dreams
the scar of a name carved so careful, in the side of an evergreen
the sweet smell of diesel and lumber, and leather gloves worn by the wind
my hero of hoping and hunger, my one real man

blue-eyed and out on the water, just watching the lines and the tide
but bring him home safe he’s my father, don’t go closing his blue eyes

a nickel for what you been thinking, a dollar is more than i own
a decade is too long to search for that highway back home
so maybe i’ll move to a new town, and start up a life on the edge
but then again maybe i’ll sit down and count how i’m blessed

blue-eyed and out on the water, just watching the lines and the tide
but bring him home safe he’s my father, don’t go closing his blue eyes

and the river is mighty at midnight, the canyon just layers of time
you’re brighter to me than the moonlight, wider than the night sky

i think of you when i’m out walking, or under the hood of my car
the steady belief buried deep in the gold of your heart
and someday i’ll want for the answers, to questions that i never posed
someday i’ll hold my own daughter the way you held yours

blue-eyed and out on the water, just watching the lines and the tide
but bring him home safe he’s my father, don’t go closing his blue eyes

Lillian & Martha

the paper sits upon the step, the messenger already gone
and lillian sits next to it, and looks across the coming dawn
the type is bold enough to read, for eyes so tired and set with time
and lillian cannot believe, the photograph and bold headline

she leaves the step and lights the stove, she heats the kettle cracks the eggs
and from the porch the paper blows, it lifts and weaves and floats away
and lillian, she smoothes her hair, she sits to rest her aching feet
and up the old and oaken stairs, martha stirs and leaves a dream

she reaches out across the bed, finds the sheets are tucked and cold
she calls aloud for lillian, her heart it beats and strains and slows
and lillian, she climbs the stairs, she hears her martha’s ragged breath
she lies beside her calms her fear, it’s alright darling you can rest
and long they lay there side by side, the breath of two becomes the one
and down the street the photo flies, of martha and of lillian

and now the town it slowly wakes, unrolls the paper, sits to read
the news it travels cross the state, of hearts that struggle to be free
and from the front in love and tears, lillian and martha wave
the courthouse after fifty years, on their long awaited wedding day

beyond the step the day begins, the heat it rises from the road
and down the stair comes lillian, a promise kept, a band of gold

Reverie

the streetlights are diamonds, the sidewalk a bed
of boot heels and garbage and cigarettes
and only the hopeless and lonesome are left
to pin up the night and go home

and i don’t believe that a fortune is told
by the turning of cards, by the swinging of stones
but still i’m here hoping for what i can’t hold
for some kind of sign from above

so turn out the lights, let the diamonds be damned
a reverie is sweeter in the dark
and i don’t got nothing but two empty hands
and this slow burning flame of a heart

and midnight comes rolling all bottles and bags
they come to rest soft in the park
and a beautiful woman, her voice made of glass
stirs in a dream in the dark

and i don’t believe that the future is told
by the weight of a word, but by the way it’s spoke
and still i’m here holding your name in my throat
and isn’t it sweet on my tongue

and the dawn glows, and it spreads like a spill
in the shadows, someone whispers it will be alright

the streetlights are faded, the sidewalk a song
of footsteps, and papers, and telephones
and darling it’s raining, come take me back home
it seems that i’ve seen quite enough

and i don’t know which way i’m bound to believe
the story itself, or the space between
but still i’m here wiping my eyes on my sleeve
at the beautiful world waking up