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The Cost of Living

by Harrison Lemke

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The traffic's whispering waiting
for the dawn to break the news,
and your thoughts go automatic,
jumping gears like you've lost the power to choose,
and someone drove through the rail,
and far off you can hear some sirens wail.
It's another day, you guess.
It's got no one to impress.

Take the quiet road
back where the railway used to wind.
Check up on the warehouses there,
still laced in ancient teenage spraypaint lines
after all of this time,
that crippled nowhere landscape still signed:
John-Paul McIntyre the Third.
(As in, "no one's ever heard.")

But that's just the cost of living.
it's the same anywhere you go,
not that you've been anywhere to know.

Driving home down Appleway,
everything different-but-the-same.
Hollowed-out husks of big-box stores,
the ones that lost the esoteric game.
No sign of whoever won;
rearranging deck chairs just for fun
on a pleasure cruise up there,
tanned skin and thick blond hair.

Sale signs in the derelicts
where the cafés used to be.
It's the wrong side of town for anything now
but barred-up windows and Cash Pawns and Money Trees
and problems with methamphetamine
and sunsets like you've never seen —
sun bleeding through the sky
like it's coming here to die.

But it's just the cost of living;
they don't care if you borrow or beg,
so long as you drink that cup down to the dregs.

And Grandma sent more holy cards.
Joan of Arc and Bernadette.
You don't know where to put them, but you can't throw them away,
so they pile up in the glovebox, between the old packs of cigarettes
and nicotine gum
and all the other reasons how come
you can't have what you want,
in ninety-six point font.

And the trailer park is an eyesore,
but after all, why shouldn't it be?
It's all you can do just to live this way;
it's all anyone wants you to be:
stuck on money, lowdown and blue,
with a bottomless appetite for anything that'll hurt you.
Enough reasons to do yourself in,
and enough sense to know it's a sin.

But it ain't the cost of living well,
it's the cost of living at all,
and it's one price that'll never fall.

Mike called you from jail again,
so you stop in to check on the cats.
Watch them eating on the peeling linoleum tile,
accepting your presence like a kind but useless bureaucrat
sent from on high
with nothing to deliver or prophesy,
no identifying mark,
just a figure in the dark.

Cops out there in the parking lot tonight.
It's set to be another nasty scene.
You learned to say "God bless America";
nowadays you can't remember what the words are even supposed to mean,
but you'll say it again
with a hundred shades of meaning you didn't mean then.
God bless us, every one,
Like bullets from a gun.

It's only the cost of living,
but it's rising every day,
and if you come up short, there's hell to pay.

Sometimes the ceiling in the dark
has the contours of a face
of someone who made it away from this place.
It's hard to really blame yourself,
but you'll find a way somehow;
you've been practicing your whole life, now.

There's a pain that keeps you up at night
like the light outside the door,
and there's black water pouring from the side of the mountain,
and there's a man you're both waiting for,
one who could say, "what ails you, my friend?"
And the day would break, and the world would end,
and be happy that it did,
after a billion-year-long skid.

But til then the cost of living
is gonna follow you around,
all your years among the stranded and the drowned.
All these years among the stranded and the drowned.


released August 25, 2023
Harrison Lemke - acoustic guitar, bass guitar, slide guitar, harmonica, vocals.


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Harrison Lemke Austin, Texas

tape-hiss symphonies to God

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