Josh Ritter

1999


1. Leaves and Kings

I met you at a party or on a crowded street
A silent singularity when glances chanced to meet
You looked into my glasses, said you’d seen a ghost
I tried my best to make you smile as we calypsoed close
I have been to Cleveland and you have been to jail
You seem to be recovering but I felt a little pale
Our house it was on seventeenth above a hardware store
And there we lived with seven cats all named for seven dwarves

But like leaves and kings, all things must fall
No diamond ring’s gonna cut through it all

You were working as a graverobber, you could do your job at night
I was living hand to mouth just looking for a fight
The reason why we parted it ain’t that hard to find
I was always busy, and you never had the time
well the reason why we parted it ain’t that hard to see
But I was never sure if I left you or you left me

[chorus]

And when it was all over I lost myself in work
You got married to a lawyer painting murals in New York
(You got married to a dentist building bridges in New York)
And though it seems a million miles ago since I saw the light
The hours flowed by nervously like warships in the night
Many times I’ve been corrupted but I’ve never been in love
I began to realise that that’s just where I was
So I packed up my possessions and caught an east-bound train
met you in Ohio sleeping in the rain

[chorus]

So now we’re going back again to start where we began
With rules and regulations but no real kind of plan
I’ve learned my lesson well with no mistakes at all
Once you find yourself true love you just keep holding on

Like leaves and kings, all things must fall
No diamond ring’s gonna cut through it all

but now out of the dark, out of the blue,
like leaves and kings I’ve fallen in love with you


2. Beautiful Night

Up here in the crows nest I am swimming through the breeze
One last memory from the sun as it is sinking by degrees
And high above the albatrosses, on the wing is light
And I will sing to her as she flies by
On this beautiful night

Ahead is the horizon, always changing, it stands fast
Far behind me are the desert islands, shipwrecks Of the past
And I have seen the cannons sounding in the early morning light
But I have left my battles for the day
On this beautiful night

Below me, all the sailors, they’re on this journey too
And each of us must make our unknown way upon the blue
So tonight we cast our worries,
Float Jetsam on the tide
And we’ll watch them echo far away
On this beautiful night

Flat earth may end
We may sail off the edge
And not be seen again
So I sing and hope my song will form
A rope of golden chords
So that I can rescue someone else
Should they fall overboard

Because some of us are pirates and some of us are damned
But all of us, need all of us to ever find the land
And though the passage of good hope may seem
Like a needles eye
We’re floating on tranquility
On this Beautiful night

Up here in the crows nest
I am swimming through the breeze
One last memory from the sun


3. Hotel Song

Sunday night, its supper time, the hotel’s full and all is fine. You can see that No Vacancy sign from the window of room 39
Monday morning at half past eight, everybody’s gone, they left no trace. I sit alone as the day grows late, wait to see your friendly face

Why you chose my hotel I’m not real qualified to tell, it’s just your face I remember well, when you asked if I had a room to sell
Maybe you liked just what you saw, the cable TV and the indoor spa or maybe it was the low low price – twenty-seven bucks a night

Say the highway is for lovers, but he ain’t no friend of mine, because every time I find my heart, I lose it to that long yellow line

You checked in, I checked you out, you smiled from the corners of your mouth
I turned on the no-vacancy sign as you checked in to room 39
I saw the light from your TV, you were watching channel 23, the night was long, the dark was deep, I kinda cried myself to sleep

Say the highway is for lovers, but he ain’t no friend of mine, because every time I find my heart, I lose it to that long yellow line

Morning broke itself at last, you got your continental breakfast, dropped off the key and said goodbye, I think I thought I heard you sigh
I caught a glimpse of your licence plate, you were drifting down the innerstate
It said you were from Delaware, I said oh it must be gorgeous there


4. Paint Your Picture

Pictures on my wall,
Fifteen different colours,
Starting with vermillion-
The first flower of the summer,
And don’t think I’ll be finished
Till I’ve begun to understand this,
With you stretched out in the sunlight,
As your laughter fills my canvas
The sun falls in my fingers,
On your back against the blinds,
It’s tracing out your hollows
It is filling in your lines,
There your curl finds your spiral
As you silhouette the window,
When my brush forgives itself
Spills lines upon your pillow,
Finds you standing in the middle
Of the lines you’ve laid down before
Try to trace my picture into yours
Let me paint you in the corner,
As your shoulders trap the light
See the sunset feeling golden
On the wineskins of the night
I have seen your eyes in paintings
As Cathedrals cried Hosanna
Let me paint your face in frescos
Hang your hair like Angelabra
See you standing in the middle
Of lines you laid down before,
Try to paint my picture into yours
In the morning let me find you
As I call to you by name,
Your body warm beside me
Not imprisoned in a frame
I could never find the colours
Or the light that finely paints you
With those roses in your hair
Smell of wine, immortal perfume
As you’re standing in the middle
Of lines you laid down before
Tryin’ to paint my picture into yours


5. Angels on Her Shoulders

She walked right in
As time slowed down
But not enough
To keep me from ordering up

Another round
In a bottomless cup
That I had found
In the hopes of never waking up the

Jukebox played
An old country song
About steel guitars
And how he’ll try his level best
To get along
In the same old bar
Though friends gone wrong
Well he once had love but I never got that far

She must have angels on her shoulders
Their light wherever she may be
She says the angels do not know her
I guess I’m the only one who sees.

So I got my drink
And my fix my rose
But I need much more
Then this powdered blue and rented tuxedo

I need a line
A-something she don’t know
Cause’ she’s probably heard them all a thousand times
So I caught her eye
For the next song
And the waltz replaced
The tango like she knows that I don’t belong
In these shoes
I feel all wrong
But that’s just my pride, what have I got to lose?

Well last call called
But I didn’t hear
I was too busy looking
At her across the remnants of my beer
She stood to leave
And then it all came clear
That life without her was all I had to fear

You must have angels on your shoulders
Their light wherever you may be
She asks me would I like to show her?
I think I might be just the guy you need.


6. Morning is a Long Way Down

Wrap your arms around me
And hold me close to your light
I’m too weak for flying tonight
I’ve been running all nighttime
Trying to hide from the hounds
And morning is a long way down

I was always the strongest
So young and so fast
I was always sure that it would last
And now I’m stuck here at midnight
And there’s cliffs all around
And morning is a long way down

I never ask the hard questions
I never try to transform
I was always just waiting to be born
But now the sun’s tied with night-chains
Like Prometheus, bound
And morning is a long way down

So wrap your arms around me
And hold me close to your light
I’m too weak for flying tonight
But I don’t care about nighttime
Or the light that is gone
If you’ll just hold me ’til dawn


7. Potters Wheel

I close my eyes and it all returns like the spinning of a potter’s wheel
trying to stay ahead a morning as time came running with us
and she beat us to the finish as we ran through the fields
you were born in the city and you didn’t recognise me
your beauty unexpected like a flower in the concrete
some gods far below the worlds undiscovered
set you up to ruin temples to find me on the streets
I’m an alias of who I am a counterfeited fake
in the picture I am kneeling like a dying saint jerome
hurling rocks at the demons who tried to come too near
till you came in and possessed me now I feel at home
I remember the time I walked for seven hours
and thought about the people I had known for so long
all the castles I had built of of fine and precious sand
till you came in like the tide now I don’t care that they are gone
as we floated up the river I translated the verses
that were written on memorials for the ships that had sank
and I thought about the people that traded sinking for uncertainty
and drowned because of loneliness before they reached the banks
on a beach near Barcelona the young girls cry for mary
and they bury earthen vessels in the rocks by the sea
I am sending out a bottle with a prayer upon the waves
that you’ll find inside my picture and your memory will unfold me
we were talking about a trip that I had taken to the canyons
and you told me of a river that had cut through time
leaving only the pictures of long dead sons and daughters
and you told that the paintings looked a lot like mine
I try and watch myself to see what I am saying
but my heart is on my collar and I’m asking you to take it
I don’t want to go back to the way things were before
before the dawn turns into morning I want you there to break it
and a thousand years from now when our names are just a memory
and poets have recorded what happened in the past
lovers loving in the night will find our forms in constellations
seekers seeking for salvation will find our stories in the stained glass
a boy in the city who has never seen the morning
as he’s running arm in arm with you through the fields
will be caught unexpected by a flower in the concrete
it will all return again just like a potter’s wheel


8. Letter from Omaha

Well I can’t sleep with all these hand-me-downs
Battered up chests and faded dreams
Every new life seems to spin away
Like sand escaping through the seams
Send me a letter from Omaha
Said a needle or thread could mend the tears
But tonight the cotton fields, they
Smell like calico
And the color of your hair

Stars stand against the lonely blue
Like pin-pricks made by midnight hands
They tried to sew you a pure white dress
Got tied up in the misdeeds and demands

Cotton burned all brown and wasted
Like an innocence fell to disrepair

But tonight the ashes, they
Smell like calico
And the color of your hair

If I could have my one and only wish
I’d sew your hair all to the lining of my shirt
I’d stand in the noon day clean and golden
Not the color of the dry land dirt

Send me a letter from Omaha
Said a needle or thread could mend the tears
But tonight the sugarcane, it
Smells like calico
And the color of your hair


9. Last Ditch Effort (See You Try)

You have chosen dawn to leave
Don’t bother me while I am sleeping
Life continues and though you go out
I’ll sleep another hour or so
Though you think that I am fragile
I’m a river and I’ll travel on whether you are here or not
You’re not the only thing I’ve got

So turn the light off when you leave
Don’t forget to leave the key
You know I’m going to miss your touch
You say that you can’t help that much
But I would have loved to see you try

It’s not that we committed sins
We wouldn’t know where to begin
We just love different things in our lives
I love you and you loved time
Now that my time has gone
You have risen like the dawn
And you kissed me as if once we part
I might die of a broken heart

[chorus]

Though I will not try to change your mind
Believing what you left behind
is a child who is lost confused
as a consequnce of loving you
I will not try to call your bluff
The truth would hurt you far too much
I’m sorry I got left behind
But now you’re gone I feel fine


10. Paths Will Cross

This is it my dear old friend
Our paths it seems are at an end for now
Though in time we floated free
We’re are pulled by separate gravities to ground

But it’s clear in the way we part
With our hearts together but our hands apart
And it seems so hard to begin
Best friends we’ll always be
Though your road don’t follow me
I know our paths will cross again

Time has turned her face from me
And spin spirals fancy free I flew
With nothing but the dawn to see
And now I’ve got my memories of you

Well the road is windi’ and road is hard
And there’s no telling just how far
Or how many letters I might send
One day you’ll walk with me
Against all probability
I know our paths with cross again

Time is like this fast freight train
You gotta ride, you can’t remain behind
And all your friends are on separate tracks
And some of them and some of them they won’t look back to find

The one place we all have known
The one place we can call a home
The place where each of us began
Sure as that day rolls around
When the road back home is finally found
I know our paths will cross again

Now my home is in a far off land
Where love and time have made their stand against me
And that’s probably where I’m gonna stay
It’s probably where they’ll marry me some day

But after all is come and gone
And after every songs been sung there
Comes a thought I won’t defend
Sure stones are left unturned
And on the streets where home fires burn
I know our paths will cross again


11. Pretty Polly

Pretty Polly, please come on down
From your home home high up off the ground
In the tree dark and forlorn
Where the rope hangs bruised and worn

Though I’ll never fly to you
It’s the last thing I would do
You have dug two holes so deep
I’m afraid that one’s for me

Pretty Polly must I cry
Without your voice I’ll fear I’d die
The song you sing and the story you tell
We must keep them to ourselves

Oh I know my voice like nightingale
Now I have my brand new tale
Of a tree dark and forlorn
Where a rope hang bruised and worn

Petty Polly, I have bread
That I have not eaten yet
Come and take them from my thalls
Then we’ll lay your song to rest

I suppose my song can wait
For I am hungry and grows late
I will eat your bread and then
I will sing my song a-gain

Pretty Polly, I had no choice
Stop your heart and steal your voice
One more little body so still
One more little hole to fill


12. Horrible Qualities

Tarnished mirror in the hall
Reflects the ghosts that come to call
Dressed in dusty silken gowns
Dancing in the shadowed sounds

Eyes like echoes not quite there
Should be dead but instead stare
Behind me up stairs they bound
They’re gone when I have turned around

On the walls that seem to cry
Are the monsters finally free?
Oh, what secrets do they hide
Behind the family tapestry?

A handless maiden leads a mare
Through half-deserted bedrooms bare
To her the sunlight filters in
From out behind the red curtains

A little girl in framed attire
Hangs her locks above the fire
She takes your hand, writes her lines
Drench the page with children’s rhymes

In the walls that seem to cry
Are the monsters finally free?
Oh, what secrets do they hide
These bright-lit whispered histories?

Smoking jackets play around
What house of theirs once fallen down
Is crept in ruins behind closed doors
In hallways not gone down before

A lonely reader in the gloom
Hears footsteps in the other room
It’s only children playing ball
In the tarnished mirror in the hall

In the rooms that seem to cry
Are the monsters finally free?
Oh, what secrets do they hide?
Is the only monster me?


13. Stuck to You

Well there’s one thing Mama, I think you should know
It is not love that makes the flowers grow
But a complex electron transfer process known as photosynthesis when chlorophyll reacts with the light of day
Since you’re gone, the light has gone away

Oh there’s one more thing Mama, I think that you’ll find
It is not love that makes the stars shine
But the spontaneous combustion of super-heated and super-condensed gasses in the process known as fusion that creates new elements when the time is right
Since you’re gone, stars don’t shine so bright

Oh there’s another thing Mama, I think I should confide
It is not love that’ll turn the tide
But the net difference in the gravitational pull between the Earth and the Moon as it is acted out upon the waves
But since you’re gone, I feel washed away

I could have been a mathematician
Studied rockets for a livin’
Would’ve worked out better in the end
But to get more specific I’d break every law of physics
To bring you back to me again

Well there’s one more thing, I’ll tell you if I can
It is not love, that makes a non-stick frying pan
But a top-secret, trademarked, conglomerated, most likely carcinogenic, polyurethane compound spread in a micro-thin substance,
over a negatively charged layer of aluminum, copper, iron, lead, VHS, FYI, apple pie, FBI, and some other elements too
Since you’re gone, I wish I’d stuck to you