Category Archives: simple life

Change is Good

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Diana walks slowly across the grass, her hand brushing the porch post as she passes. She settles herself into the Adirondack chair and places the bowl of yogurt and granola in her lap. My friend looks six months pregnant, but no, she assures me, she’s due in January. I look at her belly again. Really? Five more months? The thought crosses my mind — twins — but I don’t say anything. What do I know about pregnancy?

We became friends studying music in college, she a mezzo-soprano and I a soprano. I remember meeting her in Music Theory I and how her bubble bangs curled over her wire-rimmed glasses. Neither of us was quite ready for college, but we entered the practice rooms with conviction: we would learn how to sing if it killed us. It’s only since graduation that we’ve become close, writing letters back and forth. I enjoy the way letters force me to slow down, take note. It was one of these letters on pale green paper that told me Diana was expecting and asked me to visit before fall came.

It’s my first visit to Deer Isle in the summer, and it isn’t hard to see why Diana came home. Eating breakfast in front of the ocean, I see two small islands covered in pine trees across the way, a working lobster pound to my left. In the field is an American flag flapping, and beneath it, we sit in two yellow Adirondack chairs. Kiska, their American Eskimo puppy, dashes across the grass flashing her long white fur. She gets too excited, barking and jumping despite Diana’s admonitions.

It’s my last hurrah of the summer. I go back to teaching in a week, and I drove the nearly five hours to Deer Isle with the hopes of rest and sunshine. I didn’t know till I got there that they actually live on Sunshine, a small section of Deer Isle proper.

“Like a borough,” I say. “So you’re Manhattan.”

She laughs.

“Yeah, we’re Manhattan.”

It’s a Manhattan complete with one coffee shop, one year-round restaurant, and two or three seasonal eateries that may or may not be open when they say they’ll be. The coffee is delicious, and I think as I sip: Maybe I could actually live here if there’s good coffee.

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I’ve come for rest and sunshine and Diana’s voice recital. Four years ago we gave our respective senior recitals, and now, on a Sunday afternoon in August, Diana stands in front of a small group of people with her four-month-belly and a black floor-length dress. She’s shed the wire-rimmed glasses and grown out the bubble-bangs. I know the work it takes to learn this music and the nervousness Diana must have felt this morning. I know that a tiny part of her just wants this all to be over. She takes a deep breath. Her belly moves out as she inhales and then, as she begins the first notes of Ned Rorem’s “Absalom,” her belly tightens beneath her skirt.

I am aware of every movement, of the muscle strength it takes to breathe and support. Her voice fills the white room, and immediately I see how much she has grown. Not just her voice, not just her musicality. Her face. Her body. Her ease. Diana wasn’t the only stiff performer in college; we all moved with inhibition and a fear of risk. We struggled with too much pride and easily wounded egos. I remember how hard it was to change my focal point, just to lift my eyes from the exit sign at the back of the room up to the right where the sunshine was supposed to be. But here she is, this beautifully strong musician who moves with grace. The piece isn’t happy: her mezzo-soprano voice bemoans Absalom’s betrayal of his father, King David. For a moment, I am David weeping in the high chamber: my child and my betrayer.

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Diana ends the final note with an emphatic sadness. She is David for a second longer. Then she is Diana again, snapped back to the small hot room with her belly that may or may not contain twins. She sings through the program, taking on each character and making me forget I’m just an audience member sitting in a hard pew. We clap her back onstage and her encore — “Summertime”  — is a show-stopper. Later, the audience lines up to greet her. Too many people comment on the size of her belly, the possibility of twins. She laughs and says something like, “Yes, I’m getting a little scared,” but she doesn’t seem scared, with her dark hair perfectly smoothed back and her diamond necklace and earrings.

She doesn’t seem scared of this baby or spending her entire life on an island of three thousand people. She looks at her lobsterman husband with a gentle kindness. There’s a power in her, a new ease. Maybe a good word for this new Diana is calm; she moves slowly but with thoughtfulness I envy. I read once that “rushing is the sign of an amateur,” and I know this is me, always frantic to do that next thing, accomplish that goal, fill that hole in me or my life. I feel this no more strongly than right now, in this place of steadiness and home-grown families. I wonder what it takes to grow from rushing to rest, and why it takes some longer than others to settle into rhythms.

~     ~     ~

On my drive home to Massachusetts, I think about my next visit to the island. There will probably be a baby — maybe two — and our conversations will not be about pregnancy but sleeping habits and resemblance and how to teach voice lessons with an infant. I will probably knit a tiny sweater that will only fit Diana’s child for a few months, and she’ll marvel because she can never believe I find time to do things like that. She doesn’t understand that picking out blue and white yarn for a sweater with whales on it is how I participate in the changes. I might not be in the same place she finds herself, but I can sit on my couch in the fall and knit something that will keep her baby warm. I like to think I’ll be learning the habit of contentment as I slip stitches from one needle to the next.

Good Things #39

Spring. Spring. Spring!
It finally seems to be here after weeks of teasing. Proof? The bluebirds are back, we planted onion sets this past weekend, and I rode with the top down twice in the past week. Dad put the nucs (short for ‘nuclear’) in the hives we lost this winter. It was a tough one, and the bees felt it. But now the new bees are buzzing about, and I can’t wait for more honey.

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TV…
So, this isn’t something I usually put on my list (other than Sherlock of course), but my brother finally convinced me to watch House of Cards. I’m only two episodes in, and stylistically, I’m hooked. I love the direct address to the audience, I love Kevin Spacey’s voice, and Princess Buttercup is even more stunning thirty years later. I’ve heard through the grapevine, however, that things get a little racy. We’ll see if I can handle it. It always makes me wonder what kind of person I would be if I’d ended up in Washington or in some other political arena. I’d probably be some ruthless cutthroat with pork-filled bills.

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Celebrating poetry month…in Latin.
My students, while not in English class, are still not immune to National Poetry Month. For three weeks we’ll be memorizing Latin poetry together, and I tried to sell it by using my 105-year-old great-grandmother as an example:

“You know what? My great-grandmother is 105, and sometimes she doesn’t remember who I am. You know what she does remember? What she learned in third grade.”

That got their attention. Yes, Gramma can recite poems and songs she sang as a child. So I told them I was giving them the gift of poetry for when they’re old.

They laughed, because none of us is getting old, please.

One of the poems we’re memorizing is Ecce gratum (See, welcome). Written sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries, it is one of 245 poems in the Carmina Burana. Feel free to memorize it yourself in honor of spring and poetry month!

Ecce gratum
et optatum
Vēr reducit gaudia.
Pupuratum
floret pratum.
Sōl serenat omnia.
Iamiam cedant tristia!
Aestās redit,
nunc recedit
Hiemis saevitia.

 

Iam liquescit
et decrescit
grando, nix et cetera.
Bruma fugit,
et iam sugit
Ver Aestatis ubera.
Illi mens est misera,
quī nec vivit,
nec lascivit
sub Aestatis dextera.

 

Gloriantur
et laetantur
in melle dulcedinis
quī conantur,
ut utantur
praemio Cupidinis.
Simus iussu Cypridis
glorantes et
laetantes
pares esse Paridis.

 

See – welcome
and longed-for
Spring brings back joys.
Purple
flowers the field.
The sun clears everything.
Now let sadness recede.
Summer returns
and retreats
the savagery of Winter.

 

Already melts
and vanishes
hail, snow and the rest.
Winter flies,
and now rises
Spring, the heart of Summer.
His mind is miserable
Who neither lives
nor loves
under the right hand of Summer.

 

May they exult
and be joyous
in the honey of sweetness
who try
to make use of the gift of Cupid.
Let us be by the order of Cypris
exultant and
joyous
to be on par with Paris.

Good Things #34

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In February, I woke up every morning thinking: Maybe it’s warmer today.

In March, I wake up every morning not believing that it will ever. be. spring. again.

[This place exists, right now as I sit in a snow flurry. It’s called Capri. And it’s way warmer.]

Dad planted some seeds Sunday and we have plans for flowers this weekend. There’s the skeleton of a greenhouse in the backyard, but it’s crooked because it’s sitting on top of a foot of snow.

I got a phone call asking if I’d teach the chicken class again this spring. I was shocked because a class of two doesn’t sound like a success to me, but why not? I had fun, and I liked showing off our “big red barn” of a chicken house. It’ll give me a reason to keep wanting to have chickens because there’s something about a long winter that removes every desire to keep having them. By May I plan to have a new brood of chicks, anyway, so that’ll be another addition to show whoever might sign up. Last year, we ended up talking about writing as much as we talked about chickens – seems the same kinds of people are interested in the same kinds of things.

I am 3/4 of the way done with my second grad school class and I’m close to rejoicing.

This is a song I loved my junior year of college. Justin McRoberts came to our school and for months I made fun of his silly poster that hung in the dining hall: eyes down, shaggy hair, he looked like the quintessential too-serious musician. We went to his coffee-house-style concert and my opinion completely changed. He made us laugh. He joked about being Mexican and Irish and how short he was. I love this song because it is despair and hope all rolled into one.

The excitement of my grammar school Latin students to see my Italy and Greece slide show is overwhelming. Of course, I’m not dumb, and I know that at least part of them is just excited to get out of some translating. But still. I’m terrible with technology so all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope the slide show works…

Read A Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp if you need some encouragement in gratitude. Her style can be a little distracting at times, but it’s beautiful and thought-provoking.

Snow Thoughts

There were no eggs in the chicken house this morning, and I wasn’t surprised because it’s been so cold. Now, in late afternoon, the snow is falling thick and the window reflects back my Christmas lights. I’ll probably leave them up for awhile because why can’t things be cozy even after Christmas?

I love when snow sticks to forgotten summer screens.

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I love when cardinals and blue jays, chickadees and juncos feed on the porch, leave their prints in the snow.

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[Children are laughing outside in the snowy dusk. Imagine the coldness of the backs of their necks, the raw ring between the sleeve of their coats and their mittens, the wind-burned cheeks.]

Winter Rest?

I look out my bedroom window and see a row of newly-planted blackberries. The wooden posts are easily three times the height of the twigs that promise fruit in the spring. They’re surrounded by browned-up leaves and it’s hard to imagine the spring of 2014 on November 11, 2013.

A few days ago, one of my tenth-graders asked me, “Do you like your job?”, and I was caught off guard because a student has never asked me that before.

“Yes, I do,” I said, and it was true. I left out the part about “You guys drive me crazy!” and “There’s so much stuff behind the scenes – so much planning – you people have no idea!”, because really, I do love my job. She looked at me, her head cocked in cheeky questioning, because I don’t think she believes it possible to like school. Who knows? I might get her to change her mind come spring.

I’ve counted down the days to Christmas and it scares me how quickly it will come and go and I’ll be unceremoniously shoved into 2014.

The musical will go up in mid-December. I’ll be consumed with writing my unit for grad school, writing a research paper, directing Aladdin, Jr. with patience and creativity (yes, yes? right? patience?), and then *blink!* Christmas, and unless I get my act together, my family will suffer from lack of planning and “I love you, but I’m sorry! Shopping is hard for me! Sorry!”

(Maybe I write these posts as a warning? “Heads-up, guys, my gifts might be less-than-awesome”? Or perhaps as a way to force myself to plan enough time to get just. the. right. gift. Either way, I hope it works.)

The girls have slowed down as the days are shortening – we only get about eleven eggs a day, which is barely enough to fill our orders. I coax them with sweet singing, but alas, they are stubborn old birds. The light in the henhouse extends the day, but there’s something about the cold they just don’t like.

This is what is running through my mind as I look at the bare twigs out my window. Not much is expected of them right now: just lie there, dormant. Come April, though, little leaves will unfurl and a winter’s worth of rest will fill my belly with sweetness.

I may not have a whole winter, but I do have today.

What Do You Want Your Story to Be?

I was addicted to stories. I devoured them, one after the other, bending and folding paperbacks with abandon, dog-earring corners, underlining words that were beautiful, words that were true. Young heroines like Emily of New Moon and Betsy from the Betsy-Tacy books taught me how to be spunky and creative. It wasn’t long before I was weaving plots for hours on a 1995 Gateway computer in my bedroom.

I remember wanting other kinds of stories, too. Sitting at the dinner table long after all the food was eaten, we’d beg my father to tell us stories about his childhood. (My mother’d always shake her head when we asked her, saying she didn’t have any stories. I still find this hard to believe.) Dad’s stories often involved fish, foolish things my dad had tried because he was “curious.” The time when he was three and took the goldfish out of the tank “to look at it” is a classic; I can still picture the poor thing gasping on the living room carpet, the victim of an over-active mind and not quite enough supervision.

My mother’s friend from college told us good stories, too. I remember most the one of her throwing cherry tomatoes over the railing and hitting guests. Oh, and the one with blood-engorged ticks (who could erase that memory?!). And the one when the dog ate rising bread dough and its stomach rose with it, waddling proof that dogs do not know what’s best for them.

I grew up on stories.

The voices brought people alive, my great-great-grandfather and his stern Maine-ness. My grandpa whom I’d known but only awhile, breathed again when we talked about his stories of growing up on a fox farm. As I listened and began to craft stories of my own, I realized that one day, I too would have stories to tell my children.

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What do you want your story to be?

[He asks from the pulpit, and I think, I’ve been thinking about this all along.]

When you write your story, think about how it affects others.

When you write your story, make it one you want to tell.

This is the one sentence that rang through the sanctuary, hanging in the air, making the skin on my arms prickle with its truth.

Even though I’ve discovered the repercussions of writing a life before living it, here I was reminded that sometimes we need to shape the life we’re given. Yes, things happen beyond our control, and yes, sometimes we ache from those uncontrollables. But more often than not, we have choice.

I get to choose what story I’m living, and I get to make it one I want to tell.

~     ~     ~

I will tell about early Christmas mornings, all four of us huddling in one bedroom because we wanted to share it that one day. The lights from the tree bouncing off the mirror in the hallway. About waiting for the cousins to come and longing for the day to never end. They will ask where our traditions come from, and I’ll smile and tell them the story.

I will tell about riding horses in the sun and feeling powerful.

I will tell about discovering Laura Ingalls for the first time, about raising chickens and gardening, the plethora of projects done in the name of sustainable living.

I will tell about late-night summer man-hunts when hormones ran rampant and we didn’t know what to do with them so we ran, too.

I will tell about choosing a college and not being sure but doing it anyway. I will tell about loneliness and fear, about trying hard and singing hard and learning. They will ask about friends and making friends, about trying to love. I’ll tell about walks around the pond where so much got twisted around and sorted out.

I will tell about graduating and reeling in my own mind. About disappointments and mis-steps that, while not destroying definitely left me feeling useless. About dark months in winter when I was learning to trust and hating every minute of it.

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And my most recent stories? They’ll include the discovery of joy. The summer we all lived at home again and spent our evenings on the back porch. Riding with the top down in my car, fearing the day when I’ll have to say goodbye to this lovely little bug that’s taken me so many places. Finding a church that allows me to be the silly, too-immature-for-small-group girl I sometimes am. Growing in friendships that have challenged me, shaped me, and made me think deeper than I ever could have thought on my own.

My story isn’t done, but I finally feel like I am choosing it.

Good Things #17

No Ted Talks this week. Just some not-so-related Good Things.

Music. You know a song is good when it makes you nostalgic for something you never had. That’s how I feel when I listen to “Ashokan Farewell,” like I miss deeply my Appalachian home. I found out that it was actually written in 1982, even though it sounds like it’s straight out of the Civil War. (PBS miniseries, anyone?) I listened to this on repeat while I graded Latin tests – there’s nothing like grammar terms to make good music necessary.

Who vs. Whom. Yes, this is one of the good things. I’ve been explaining the difference for about a week now to various levels of Latiners. I’ve watched their eyes glaze over and their cheeks drain of all blood and I’ve fielded their desperate pleas for a bathroom break. Do you know the difference between who and whom? I can honestly admit that I didn’t…until I took my first Latin class as a sophomore and learned about the Accusative Case and Direct Objects and All Other Things Grammatical. Now I can use “whom” with aplomb, but who would choose to?

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Lavender spray. What is that, you ask? My mom bought me this amazing lavender spray from an herbalist at the Farmers’ Market and it’s amazing. Wait, did I already say that? I spray it on my pillow every night and it’s so soothing. I wish my muscles could soak it up.

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Taking risks. I wrote a poem my senior year of college. I remember sitting on my bed, not sure if I should write it, not sure if it was worth anything. It had been a moment – the summer before when I was twenty-one and freaking out about graduating – and I didn’t (and still don’t) trust my ability to recognize moments for what they are. But I wrote it anyway. I sat on it for a year and a half. I pulled it out again, brought it to writers’ group, deleted and added and shifted and shaped. I called it “Almost Family”, submitted it to a poetry contest at Ruminate, and it placed in the top seventeen. It was published in the September issue and there is my name in black and white print. There is the moment in writing that I didn’t trust and almost forgot. My first paid piece of writing. Now how to spend that twelve dollars…

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Night Fishing

I hadn’t been night fishing since I was nine or ten. I’d fallen asleep in the middle of our 14-footer, and I remember waking up to the bright stars spread out wide around us, my father at the motor behind me, my uncle’s cigarette lit up at the bow. What were we fishing for? I don’t know, but I remember feeling like a rebel – out past my bedtime, the dark ocean engulfing us in our smallness.

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We went night fishing again this Sunday, leaving as the rain started pelting huge white drops on the pavement. “It’ll let up,” Dad said, even though of course he had no idea.

We followed him anyway.

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Down to the marina, across the wobbly dock, into the boat my grandpa bought in the ’80s. The floor’s starting to give-way, but we cruised out of the channel, me in a backwards Red Sox cap to both contain my hair and make me feel like I was actually fishing.

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There are things that overwhelm you. The ocean is almost always one of those things for me.

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And sometimes, you want to talk about that overwhelmed feeling. Your girl friends sit across from you and plumb the depths of your mind and soul. They ask questions and you question yourself and you hope that no innocent bystander is listening to your crazy.

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And other times you don’t want to talk about it at all.

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Sometimes being on the boat with your dad and your brother is the perfect place to be quiet and thoughtful and melancholy and not be asked why. And a backwards Red Sox cap is exactly what you should be wearing.

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[We caught a fish at the same time, not big enough to keep but big enough to sore my shoulder and bruise my rib where the rod was sticking – I am tender. The fins were sharp but stripers don’t bite, and I was proud.]

IMG_1626 [We got home at 10:00pm and I fell asleep, exhausted. Grandpa would’ve been proud.]

Good Things #13: Blackberries and Wine

We were walking home from a wine tasting. It was around 6:30 – half an hour past the time they closed – and the sun was still bright. There they were, dangling in greenness along the road, little deep purple berries.

Who cares about poison ivy?

We filled our plastic containers to the top (I filled mine a little over the top and they spilled, rolling along the pavement), and ran back to the house to get more. The berries were everywhere and I couldn’t believe they were untouched. How many children had walked by without venturing into the patch? How many parents had scolded the children who would have?

By the time we were done, we had roughly six quarts, and refrigerators aren’t made for holding so many.

What do you do with six quarts of blackberries at 10:30 at night?

You concoct ways to sell them the next morning at the farmers’ market.

It wasn’t until I stood in the sunlight Sunday morning, the berries proudly displayed in handmade paper-plate-and-staple-pints, that I saw the scratches all over my body. Arms and legs pink and scraped; the thorns had hurt while I was picking, but I’d hoped nothing would come of them. Here I was at the market, looking a lot more like I did when I was seven and eight, little bruises and scrapes on my summer-time calves.

This is the dichotomy of my life right now: I went to a fancy wine tasting and tried five different reds, and then scrambled through blackberry bushes like a child, gleeful at our find, slipping and nearly falling down the steep ditch along the side of the road.

I was still wearing the Ann Taylor Loft dress I’d worn to the tasting. It got caught in the thorns and is probably worse for the wear.

The Good Thing for this day? Feeling okay with switching roles in a matter of seconds.

I am a teacher.

I do midnight runs to the 24-hour McDonald’s.

I sing at weddings.

I dance like a crazy person during the reception.

I long for my own home where I can share my homegrown food and love.

I can’t imagine being anywhere than where I am right now.

I smile and sell honey to strangers.

I trip and drop a box filled with jars, the honey oozing through the bricks, the glass shimmering in the sun.

[He gave the rest of the blackberries to the vendor next to us. Her eyes lit up with joy as I watched from my car. My sister and I finished ours in a blackberry-peach sangria. I’ll probably go back in a day or two because jam is delicious and the idea of them rotting off the stems haunts me.]

Good Things Whenever #12

My Good Things Mondays have been tossed about by 1) my lack of planning and attention, 2) my lack of time, and 3) that’s pretty much it.

Not that there has been a shortage of good things lately. One might say that I’ve been discovering more and more good things with these last few weeks. These kids are hilarious (a little anecdote: a thirteen-year-old boy in my class loves sausage, so every time I ask for a noun, he shouts out, “Sausages!” and I die laughing.)

Even though I’ve been teaching and living at school, I’ve still been able to go to the farmers’ market on the weekends. We even tried out a new market Saturday – our name’s getting out there.

Among the new things I’ve discovered:

This is my new favorite musician. It was one of those moments – you know what I’m talking about. You put a cd in your car radio, a cd a friend claimed to love and then lent you, making you a little nervous about both your response to said music and if his taste in music will cause you to avoid the topic all together in the future. But you pop it in, and the first chord – the first sound of his voice in your car – reminds you of the most beautiful reasons we create.

We write because we are confused, and confusion gets worked out through pen and paper and sharing.

We make music because it is the thrum of life. Because it is in so many ways a universal language. Because I truly believe God has a special place for notes strung together and shaped into stories.

And when redemption is longed for, the beginning of redemption has begun.

I have one day of teaching left, and one day with these students I am only beginning to know and understand. I will never see them again. They will be strewn across the globe and I am only one woman in a small town in Massachusetts. But I know that every time they hear “English only!”, every time they listen to Adele’s “Someone Like You” and the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” and Joan Baez’s rendition of “Boots of Spanish Leather,” they will think of Miss Hawkins.

[Lyrics to James Vincent McMorrow’s song]

“We Don’t Eat”

If this is redemption, why do I bother at all?

There’s nothing to mention, and nothing has changed

Still I’d rather be working for something, than praying for the rain

So I wander on, until someone else is saved

 

I moved to the coast, under a mountain

Swam in the ocean, slept on my own

At dawn I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay

I’d remember all the things my mother wrote

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Two thousand years, I’ve been in that water

Two thousand years, sunk like a stone

Desperately reaching for nets

That the fishermen have thrown

Trying to find, a little bit of hope

 

Me, I was holding all of my secrets soft and hid

Pages were folded, then there was nothing at all

So if in the future I might need myself a savior

I’ll remember what was written on that wall

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Am I an honest man and true?

Have I been good to you at all?

Oh I’m so tired of playing these games

We’d just be running down

The same old lines, the same old stories of

Breathless trains and worn down glories

Houses burning, worlds that turn on their own

 

So we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you my friend, I’d learn to have just a little bit of trust