The Rags of Absence 2017 (digital)

by Bill Mallonee (Jan. 2017)

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Dirk Frey
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Dirk Frey I appreciate the ambience and space that Bill creates and how his lyrics provide a palette for reflection. The electric guitar work sits prominently in the mix but not in an in your face way that and electric guitar can be at times. The slide work, for me, is alluring -- not quite haunting -- and gets into your skin. I'm still listening and taking it all in, but this is what spawned my purchase. Thanks.
Keith Badowski
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Keith Badowski I do believe some songs can heal, console, and lift a person's spirit, even carry someone's wounded soul. This is one such song . . . "The World's Tip Jar" by Bill Mallonee. Thank you! Favorite track: THE WORLD'S TIP JAR.
Ken Wilkinson
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Ken Wilkinson Existential thought-provoking lyrics. I have a hard time picking one song to say stands out from the rest. All the songs stand out from most. Nicely done! Favorite track: NOTHING HERE WAS EVER MEANT TO LAST.
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NOTE: All of my hard copy Cd & Vinyl format is available at:

"Mallonee's 'The Rags of Absence' is a deeply cinema-graphic-like rendering of the American Experience from vantage points crossing the center-line..."
" Gritty, realized Americana."

10 songs. Big themes.Big sound. A great ride.
The Rags of Absence was written & recorded in the high deserts of New Mexico this past summer and fall.

Sonically? The album was meticulously mastered by Athens, Ga uber-engineer and all-around conjurer of sonic goodness, Tom Lewis (summershine, perfumed letter, roof of the sky, fetal position et al) with some additional mastering by Bruce Neher.

The CD itself is graced by the art work of nationally recognized visual artist, Jim Vogel; Jim's themes are a visual "Sermon on the Mount," imo.

Included in the 8 page booklet is an essay called "Giving The Devil His Due~The Music of Bill Mallonee," by professor of philosophy & religion, and rock journalist, Kelly Dean Jolley is also part of the Cd package's content. (This is fantastic old-school" rock journalism, folks.

Extensive & expanded art work on this one makes the Cd version "the one to have." With it's wrap-around font-less cover, the Cd cover (and the enclosed 8-page booklet) itself harkens back to some of the iconic albums of the 60's & 70's.
Note: (Cd purchasers get a free download of the album, as well...)

But digitally or Cd? You can't go wrong here...

"The Rags of Absence" is dedicated to the life & writing of Frederick Buechner. Mr. Buechner's work has been a constant friend, a source of inspiration and a well-spring of joy for many years.

"The Rags of Absence" was written, played, recorded, and mixed by Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers in the high deserts of New Mexico during the Summer & Fall of 2016
Mastering by Tom Lewis; additional mastering by Bruce Neher
"TO THE TRAVELER" by Pablo Neruda
These stones aren't sad.
Within them lives gold,
they have the seeds of planets,
they have bells in their depths,
gloves of iron, marriages
of time with the amethysts:
on the inside laughing with rubies,
rousing themselves from lightning.

Because of this, traveler, pay attention
to the hardships of the road,
to mysteries on the walls.

I know this at great cost,
that all life is not outward
nor all death within,
and that the age writes letters
with water and stone for no one,
so that no one knows,
so that no one understands anything.
"GIVING THE DEVIL HIS DUE" ~ The Music of Bill Mallonee
by Kelly Dean Jolley, professor of Philosophy & Religion, Auburn Univ.

“The whole creation”, St. Paul says, “groaneth and travaileth until now.” “...what I would,” he says, “that I do not; but what I hate that do I.” This is not denial, this is not evasion. In speaking as he does of the extent of pain and the power of evil St. Paul is not alone among religious teachers. In this at least religion reveals the truth. And it does so not by telling us what we did not know but by showing us what we did. --John Wisdom

“...and when it comes to the human heart? Well, the devil rides for free.” --Bill Mallonee

A good friend of mine--an admirer of Bill Mallonee’s music--commented to me that he finds the music hard to listen to. Now, he of course was not complaining about the complicated brilliance of the lyrics or the subtle grace of the melodies. He was not complaining about the recordings or the mixes, about anything in the production. In fact, he was not complaining. He was instead perplexed, caught in a paradox: admiring music that he does not and cannot listen to casually, music that he finds difficult, even demanding. --Now, it could be that what he meant was the Mallonee writes sad songs--and that is true. But Mallonee writes fewer sad songs than you may think he does. (Check the catalog.) And, anyway, my friend was not struggling with sadness in the songs. So, what was he struggling with? I found the question worth thinking about and I still do. I also have a suggestion about how to answer it: First, Mallonee writes unflinchingly of evil. He acknowledges the reality of evil and acknowledges that it is not something we can make go away or overcome on our own. Second, Mallonee insists on our finitude, our limits, our inabilities. And, third, Mallonee understands that individual salvation involves the salvation of others. Salvation is a ‘we’ business, a plural business, not an ‘I’ business, singular. These acknowledgments make the music hard--but they do not detract from its artistic accomplishment.

The great American philosopher, Josiah Royce, declared: “I regard evil as a distinctly real fact, a fact just as real as the most helpless and hopeless sufferer finds it to be when he is in pain.” Royce wrote directly and forcibly, so as not to be misunderstood. Evil is real. It touches our lives, it is sometimes of our doing. We all sometimes suffer and sometimes perpetrate evil.
That is hard to hear, hard to acknowledge. Instead we tell ourselves bedtime stories, even while day is abroad: “Evil is an illusion. Evil is temporary.” But evil is not an illusion. Evil is not temporary--at least not in the way that we mean it, as something we, on our own, will eventually eliminate.
Evil is not an illusion: any story about it that makes the pain of helpless and hopeless sufferers some kind of mistake on their part--that story gets things wrong. Any story on which evil is not visible--and hence not a real fact--even from God’s point of view, gets things wrong. God will wipe away all tears, yes, surely; but the tears are real, they are there to be wiped away. “I dunno how every tear will be wiped away/God’s got a lot on his plate.” Any denial of this looks like a lapse into a senselessly invulnerable optimism, a foolish confidence. The tears are real. How they are to be wiped away is a mystery, but we cannot wipe them out by declaring them illusory.

But confused religious idealists are not alone in viewing evil as an illusion; confused secular idealists do it too. Their explanation goes various ways--but here is one favorite: no one is evil; those who seem to be are actually sick, ill, psychologically infirm. Now, while psychological infirmity is certainly real, evil does not reduce to psychological infirmity. Sometimes we do evil and we have no available excuse. We choose to hurt others for no reason but to hurt them. We embrace darkness knowingly.

Like all acknowledgments, the acknowledgment of evil needs to be done rightly. We do not acknowledge it rightly if we think: “Yes, evil is real. It is neither an illusion nor a form of illness. And those folks over there--across some border, or with darker skin, or with names featuring multiple consonants--those folks over there are evil.” No. We acknowledge it rightly only when we realize that the ‘we’ in “We embrace darkness knowingly” is genuinely a first-person plural: I am included among the embracers of darkness. I embrace it. So do you. And it is not just that I can embrace it, that I am tempted: it is that I do and have. Each human heart is desperate with evil. That does not make each of us evil, full stop: but it does make evil something inalienable, distressingly near and familiar. Few of us are all Saturday night. None of us are all Sunday morning. We are mostly damp, chill Wednesdays. --In the struggle against our own evil, every day is hump day.

Mallonee also writes from a genuine recognition of human finitude. No one of us is an end-all or a be-all. No one of us stretches from horizon to horizon. Limits define us. “There are some deadlines no man can make.” We are smaller than we aim to be, believe ourselves to be. Our reach exceeds our grasp, our eyes are bigger than our stomach, we try on big sister’s clothes. We end empty-handed, bellyaching, ludicrous. We need to accept that we can only reach so far, only consume so much, only wear this size. But restraint rankles. Spiritual downsizing seems less discipline and more loss. We would grow as vast as empires, and faster than internet start-ups.

Now, high-mindedness is good; it should be encouraged. But high-mindedness must mix with humility, else it denatures into arrogance. The humble, high-minded person understands the difficulty of what is undertaken, understands that it may very well not be completed, but does not refuse to undertake it on that account. For the properly high-minded, the view of the goal is always mediated by the means, and this means that the high-minded do not cut corners, cheat. The sort of goals the high-minded pursue are unreachable by shortcuts: it is not the way that is narrow, it is the narrowness that is the way. But that means that the high-minded understand the cost of the undertaking, accept its demands, and undertake it counting it worthy of pursuing even if the pursuit never ends or they fail honorably in it. (The life so short, the craft so long to learn.) So the high-minded are aware--it is part of their high-mindedness--of their own finitude, of their limits. Think of Thomas Aquinas praying for God to “complete his finished task” for him. He knew that he would end before the task did. He left the completion of the task in God’s hands. That is high-mindedness.

Genuinely recognizing our finitude is not throwing in the towel, or failing to answer the scratch; it is no shelter for cravenness. Restraint is not loss, but a preparation for more important battles, a way of gathering in and tending to your best forces for the important fights. It is a way of feeding what is best in you and starving what is worst. It is required for purity of heart, required if we are to will one thing. We all want happiness, ample and complete, but restraint furthers that aim, it does not hinder it. Our perfection as human beings is a finite perfection. We are not God, omnipotent and omniscient with Him: and wanting to be, we fall down, trip up, whether in a garden or in a desert or in an asphalt jungle. Socrates claimed a kind of wisdom, a human wisdom, and denied having any divine wisdom. He acknowledged his limits, and doing so allowed him to understand that human wisdom ripens only in the acknowledgment of ignorance. There are things Socrates wanted to know that he knew he would not know, at least not on the hither side of the blue. He was ok with that, he could live--and die--with it.

Mallonee also realizes that salvation is not the individual business it is sometimes taken to be. He knows that we need each other, and at the widest and deepest possible levels. I cannot care about my own salvation unless I care about yours. I cannot be saved if I am not genuinely trying to save others. This is not as such a call for witnessing or for evangelism. My effort to save you may take the form only (only!?) of warming you, feeding you, clothing you. And here’s the uncomfortable thing: I cannot care about your eternal life if I do not care about your temporal life. Melville wrote in Moby Dick that ours is a “mutual, joint-stock world in all meridians”. That is absolutely true. Even in the eternal meridians. God is the Lord of Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts. He is an hospitable God, never alone, always in company: Three in One, and surrounded by tens of thousands of angels, by archangels, and by the cloud of witnesses, the saints. The songs sung there are sung by choirs--there are no soloists in heaven. The New Song is our song.

Mallonee can be hard to listen to. But that is not because the songs are anything other than first-rate. All Mallonee’s many virtues are present on Rags of Absence, and in resplendent array. Mallonee is hard to listen to because he tells us things we know but do not want to know, things of which we are motivatedly ignorant, forgetful. He shows us what we know but will not know. He does it by finding the patterns in the human rigmarole, by his gift for shifting his vision just enough to see the universal in the particular, the eternal in the temporal. Every human life is a scene of universal and eternal importance; every human life gives testimony, perhaps mutely, to what is everywhere and always true. But that is the testimony we do not want to hear. So Mallonee’s music challenges us: to love the songs requires being willing to bear the songs’ burden of home truths.

Not that long ago, thinkers who thought hard about our aesthetic lives, about art, distinguished between the beautiful and the sublime. One distinction between the two is that the experience of the beautiful is pleasurable, and solely pleasurable, whereas the experience of the sublime is not pleasurable or not solely pleasurable. To understand this, consider the experience of a violent thunderstorm--but the experience of it not as a person exposed to the wind and the rain, but as a person contemplating it from a secure and comfortable seat on a porch. There is pleasure in such an experience, but it contains an admixture of pain--a recognition of our own smallness, of our vulnerability, of the uncontrollable and dwarfing and awesome power of the storm. Mallonee’s music I reckon sublime. The sublime songs tell us hard truths. The soaring guitars strike the depth of our plight. The melodies ring out all the discord of our lives. There is pleasure aplenty in the music--but there is pain too.

The distinction between the beautiful and sublime has fallen into disuse, largely because we have little appetite for the sublime. We do not want to face the bracing, the stern; we abhor discomfiture. We do not want to be reminded that we are small, vulnerable. We want to be entertained, stroked, fondled--we want our itching ears scratched. We want what we are interested in, not what is in our interest. We want what we want--to hell with what we need.
Giving the devil his due--acknowledging evil, finitude and dependence--is not turning from Heaven. It is recognizing Heaven must begin here, in the wheezing dust of our lives, as Hell must too. Paradise and Inferno are hard against wherever we are. It is perhaps easy enough to look around us and believe that the Inferno is a stone’s throw away (as it was for the mob following the woman taken in adultery), but it is hard to see Heaven as near. But it is near, as near as my own hand, or the leaves in the field.

There is an abyss of wonder, an abyss of grace, in the near, the low and the familiar. But that abyss becomes visible to us only if we know that the center of the creation is love: Love is the centerline structure of creation, holding it together--leaves, ants, fences, stones, poke-weed and us. Love ensures that the devil never gets more than his due, and eventually gets just what he is due. The devil is limited.

It may sometimes seem that we live squalid in rags of absence, that God has bolted from his creation--and then bolted it shut. That God is a God in jest, cruel jest. But: the Incarnation: God is with us: He is the core & center of creation. He is not a cosmic spectator of our tears but commiserates with us hic et nunc. He tasks us to weep with those who weep. He will not task us with any task that is not also His. How is this possible? I do not know. But I know that this album by Mallonee increases my faith. If a man can enter so into the suffering of others, affirm it, and bless them, how could God not do so too?

We need music like Mallonee’s, art like his: strong, unafraid and soothfast, replete with sublimity. We need to hear what Mallonee tells us. We need to hear it, and to hear it over and over again and again. Because we do not want to hear it, and because we will forget it. And none of that is about to change. - Kelly Dean Jolley

(Dr. Kelly Dean Jolley is the Goodwin-Philpott Professor of Philosophy & Religion at Auburn University)

The Rags of Absence
Bill Mallonee: songs, acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, harmonies, baritone & high-string guitars, lap steel, organ, drums, bass
Muriah Rose: harmonies on "Cry, Cry, Cry"
"The Rags of Absence" is dedicated to the life & writing of Frederick Buechner. Mr. Buechner's work has been a constant friend, a source of inspiration and a well-spring of joy for many years.
~ Thanks & Gratitude to Those Who Made The Journey Light ~
to my wife, soul-mate & "sweetheart of the rodeo," Muriah Rose for her time, talents and invaluable advice that accompanied this work from start to finish.

to Jim Vogel, painter & visionary, for use of his painting "Noche de la Muertos," and for creating work that imbues the meek & the lowly with dignity & renders their plight with tenderness.

to Dennis Maloney at White Pine Press (Buffalo, NY) for his masterful translation of Pablo Neruda's "Isla Negra," and for permission to reprint "To The Traveler."

to professor Kelly Dean Jolley for his insights, kind words and for "getting beneath the skin" of all of this.

to Tom Lewis, conjurer of sonic goodness, for mastering this album.

to Jason Judy for lending his considerable talent & enthusiasm to the design of the CD art work.

to Aaron Regenold at Sweetwater Sound (Ft. Wayne, IN) for continued assistance with gear & technical questions.

to Dusty Wakeman and the good people at Mojave Audio.

Last, but not not least, thanks to the kind & gracious folks who backed this project's funding. All of this was made possible because of your goodwill & kindness.

Thank you, one & all, for supporting indie/Americana.

~ Ephemera ~
Drop in for a listen!
More of the whole 77 album discography can be listened to &/or purchased at:

On the web at:

Booking Inquiries at:


released January 2, 2017

Bill Mallonee: vocals, harmonies, electric & acoustic guitars, lap steel, resonator guitars, high-string guitars, bass, drums, harmonica, loops
Muriah Rose: harmony on "If You Pray You'd Better Cry, Cry, Cry;"


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Bill Mallonee

Bill Mallonee is an Americana artist w/ 75 plus albums over a 25 year career. Voted by Paste Music Magazine #65 in their "Top 100 Living Songwriters" poll. He was the
founding member of Vigilantes of Love. He has worked with Mark Heard, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, & Peter Buck from REM.
His most recent work, "The Rags of Absence" released in Jan. 2017.
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THE WORLD'S TIP JAR words & music: bill mallonee
Now, darlin' we've gone down that path a thousand times
there is no treasure buried in those woods
you deserved better, there's no denying
honey, i'd make it up to you if i could
i fell in love with you in the worst kinda way
these things happen if you know what I mean
sure, there are sinners
and maybe there's some saints
but I mostly I think all of us
are just stuck in between

in~between....and hangin' in thin air
In~between....and all threadbare

Darlin', let's you & me pick up that ragged little thread
and spin us something more lasting than gold
the kind that guards shakey little hearts
against the dark...and against the cold
and don't forget to glance up at the stars
at the moon, at the neon in the bars
pick up your change and put it in the world's tip jar
Track Name: BOOM & BUST TOWN
Boom & Bust Towns (Most Decent Folks)
words & music: bill mallonee c BMI 2016

Going nation-wide going coast to coast
6 string drag on a J-50
That don't even come close

Fell in love with the songs
fell in love with the stories
the saints and the sinners and the ragged glory
running through my veins; running through the pouring rain

there's always the string of boom & bust towns
most decent folks don't want you around

I don't mean to be forward, i just wanna be real
honey, you the kinda girl a fella should steal
and i'd care for your spirit the best way i know how
'Cause life is like lightening and the world is a storm
some days you wish you'd never been born
but that's how you know you still haven't found your home

there's always the string of boom & bust towns
most decent folks don't want you around

i saw it too then i was a goner
paint yourself into a corner
a convert to the asphalt, kerosene & creosote
put on a fringe jacket and some cheap cologne
if you've got the road you may not need a home
there's so many ways a person can get born

there's always the string of boom & bust towns
most decent folks don't want you around
words & music: bill mallonee
BMI 2026
published by ""Once More, This Time with Feeling" music

When you're out on the mean streets
no coins in your pocket & no shoes on your feet
however the die is cast
baby, this too shall pass
nothing here was ever meant to last

there were blue~prints, formulas and templates all foolproof
Greed is just a bandit on the loose
one day they'll hang 'em all high
no flags will fly half-mast
nothing here was ever meant to last

gonna be a cold one on the pavement tonight
nothing left to do but hold each other tight
i gotta little something
inside this silver flask
nothing here was ever meant to last
words & music by bill mallonee
BMI 2016
published by ""Once More, This Time with Feeling" music

Well, I pulled into Reno, 'cause i couldn't make Salt Lake
too many rice burners on the road
and i swear to God there's deadlines no man could ever make
I pulled int Reno, 'cause i couldn't make Salt Lake

Well, i left behind your memory, 'cause every sermon needs close
and i left behind my past, 'cause i didn't need the ghosts
Always the last to know and reckon what was real and what was fake
i pulled into Reno, 'cause i couldn't make Salt Lake

In the day, i drive by Merle & Cash and Jimmie Rogers, too
but, Hank? He'll just break your heart beneath a desert moon
Loneliness becomes a friend you learn to embrace
I pulled int Reno, 'cause i couldn't make Salt Lake

my eyes are fixed upon these white lines till they pulse inside of me
and when it comes to the human heart? Well, the devil rides for free
the high beams cut the darkness and the moon is a silver blade
i pulled into Reno, 'cause i couldn't make Salt Lake

Well, you come to terms with all of it and hope for something more
and if that ain't a kind of faith? Well, i'm always falling short
and you there are some deadlines, no man could ever make
I pulled int Reno, 'cause i couldn't make Salt Lake
words/music: bill mallonee
Abilene, why do I...curry no favor with thee?
and Durango? you're no friend to side show freaks...

And so, California was the place...where my heart was hardened
where they burn the crops on the docks in sight of the starving

Here comes the part...where you start all over again
no, no,you cannot change that now
anyhow...anyway...just try and make it through another day

You smile in the rain
everything re-arranges right before your eyes
and when you pray?
you gotta cry, cry, cry

Now dumb luck? Well it's always been....a top-shelf taste
closest thing amazing grace

You said: "love is more than a shot in the dark," as you drew up a chair
Honey, I'd fold these cards and follow you anywhere

Here comes the part...where you start all over again
no, no you cannot change that now
anyhow, the goal so they say, is to make it through another day

You smile in the rain
everything re-arranges right before your eyes
and when you pray?
you gotta cry, cry, cry
MESMERIZED words & music by bill mallonee
BMI 2016
published by ""Once More, This Time with Feeling" music

Well, it went by so quickly;
It went by pretty fast
Not altogether present
When the Glory, it went past
Not because i wasn't there;
And not because i wasn't on the scene
mostly because i wasn't healed...
you know what i mean...

Now i'm lost beneath your whisper
Darlin,' i'm lost inside your eyes
Found deep within the wonder

me? well, i got lucky
i got my chance to shine
i got to do my dying
one breath at a time
not by any merit of my own
and not because my dreams
were any more than common
you know what i mean

Now, history hurries past
at least it does seem so
I was dressed in rags of absence
for most of that Grand show
But one day i hope to wake up
in a skin i've never seen
Eternal dawn & Gloaming
you know what I mean...
COVERING GROUND music/lyrics: bill mallonee
It's best to shut your mouth, if you've nothing to confess
after all the dust settles, clarity manifests
i do my best work after the daylight fades
shoot out the lights, if you must, and make your get-away
Covering ground...

you saw it all as saw it all as choice
a balance not yet rendered...but one needing a voice
to speak from the fringes...for those outside the gate
to those who all they ever heard was "just be nice and wait"
Covering ground...

you caught sight of the prize and your spirit it did claim
from the time your heartbeat, it was running in your veins
the cries of the forgotten in your ears did pulse
oh, to be so young; oh, to be so cursed
Covering ground...

tonight my fingers stroke the tumbler and the dice are in my hands
numbers in motion? Now, there's a language i understand
i bestow on the poor what the rich man took by strife
Some? they call me Judas; some they call me Christ
Covering ground...
Two-Finger Wave words & music: bill mallonee
BMI 2016
published by ""Once More, This Time with Feeling" music

You can barely see coming
it'll take you by surprise
A motorist in a slow approach
12 o'clock high

It's a world that we all cruise through
and there's so little left to save
Still, you gotta smile when after all those miles
You get that 2 finger wave

No, i've never ever seen him
But, that's all part of the riddle
Something passed between us
and that white line in the middle

No, i did not get a sermon
a gesture is all he gave
Still, you gotta grin when you make a friend
with that 2 finger-wave

It's a way of building bridges
It's a bond of trust that'll last
2 fingers off the steering wheel
as you go pass

'Cause it's a world that we're all bruised through
come what little, come what may
Still, you gotta smile when it's done in style
that two finger wave

'Cause it's a world that we all cruise through
and there's so little left to save
still you gotta smile when after the miles
you get that 2 finger wave
Track Name: JENNY LAKE
JENNY LAKE (NO SHAME IN ANYTHING) words/music: bill mallonee
you're heading back to the mountains
i heard winter had made her opening remarks
seems like you might be counting on
some whispers from Jenny Lake in park

i know just how suddenly things...can dawn on you
in an unexpected way
so much for knowing our own skin
so much for the signposts on the way

If i could tell you one thing........before the house of cards comes down
there's no shame in anything........should you decide to turn around

Life's a kind of game where you learn to keep your cards
real close to your chest
you try to follow your good heart
but hearts are such a shaky thing at best

Nothing and i mean nothing is ever really lost
there's no shame in anything...should you decide to call it off

you know i'm always here
should that lake never speak her mind
you know i'm always here for you
but words, like gold, is sometimes hard to find

If i could tell you one thing........before the house of cards comes down
there's no shame in anything........should you decide to turn around
THE RAGS OF ABSENCE words & music: bill mallonee
BMI 2026 published by ""Once More, This Time with Feeling" music

This town has a way of making you lie
to yourself and it fills your eyes with crows in sky
and fastens them like chains to your dark alibis

are you a lost little lamb on a highway full of wolves?
nothing ever lasts...even when you want it to
are you the barren branches that the wind blows through?

So, i learned to hold my breath 'cause babe, we're all stormed~tossed
and i became a diver but every pearl i found i lost
i have forded every river, but there's an ocean you gotta cross

i don't know when i first noticed it was an empty cup
all of these spaces & in-betweens, i couldn't seem to fill up
i can promise you my heart...but it will not be enough...

You dress in rags of asbsence...resplendent and replete
with something of the hallowed and something incomplete
all paths lead to the mountain, but God it seems so steep

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