Midwest Elegy

from by Simon Balto

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lyrics

I remember my grandfather’s hands
Crisscross-mapped carved deep like the rivers and lands
Calloused and tore up, from forty-eight years at the plow.

His forehead worry lines they rhythmed with the seasons
‘Til capital markets gave him a reason
When the factory farms plowed him under four decades ago.

Boardroom men called him a small cost of progress,
And said the same of his neighbors and their prospects
And at his request in a back field, ‘neath an oak tree his memory lays.
But only the fortunate ones will survive the Midwest’s dying days.

I remember my father’s strong arms
Roped rock from his twenty-five years building cars
At the Janesville GM plant where he worked on the engine block line

He always took a square jaw-lined pride in his labors
And bitched about folks getting government favors
‘Til the Reagan recession threw his ass on the dole for a time.

Things bounced back before they got worse
The industry racked by a blue-collar curse
And now there’s more places to drink than there are ways a man can get paid
But only the soberest men will survive the Midwest’s dying days.

And now I’ve been twenty-two years in these bars with some ghosts of unfortunate men.
We grew up together and talked about getting out, but still ended up here in the end
And the sun still comes up on this place I grew up, but it don’t look the same to me now
It’s colder and dimmer and its shine it don’t glimmer the same ways it used to somehow.

And I’ve grown to hate the palms of my hands
Too soft with no sense of hard labor or land
And I worry sometimes what my granddad – what he’d think of me now.

But like him, I do the best that I can
With limited options and circumscribed plans
I push paper for paychecks at the last living business in town.

And I hope for m son something better
But so far he’s lived my life down to the letter.
Come on, kid, this life – it’ll dig you a grave in so many ways
And only the sturdiest ones will survive the Midwest’s dying days.
Yeah only the fortunate ones will survive the Midwest’s dying days.

credits

from Murmurations, released August 5, 2016

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Simon Balto Indianapolis, Indiana

Alt-folk. Midwest. Big voice, full heart, can't lose.

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