Changing Signs

by Jacob Miller

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All songs written and performed by Jacob Miller
Recorded in Grinnell, Iowa, Spring 2016
Harmonies and additional vocals by Isabel Cooke
Mandolin by Lou Engleman
Cover photo by Destini Powell


released April 21, 2016



all rights reserved


Jacob Miller Grinnell, Iowa

slow music for slow feelings


page artwork by destini powell

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Track Name: Hole in the Map
Tires roll, open road,
you know I have to always go.
In my dreams I'm still driving west
from Boston towards an emptiness,
a half-formed desire made of pure distance

Thought I'd know, know by now,
the road will only turn you around;
the destination towards which you slowly tend,
it's just the core of wanting, it leads back again.
If I were clever like you, I'd have figured it out by now

So I'm stuck in a car that's stuck in my head,
'cause I can't drive, might as well be dead,
and I turn circles in the dust with my thumbs
wondering when the hell transfiguration's gonna come.

but I don't change 'cause I can't move
any closer to the things that I'm wanting to,
though Desire's just the distance that I've built between here
and the hole in the map were the roads disappear.

must be something precious inside that unknown, so
let the tires roll, let the tires roll.
Track Name: Letters from Ithaca, NY
Do you think it's alright if I see you tonight
in a dream about a crooked knife?
I'm afraid that you're Perseus wrapped up in so many lines
and you're going to come for my sight

Do you think it's alright if you're Agamemnon and I'm in the bath taking sides?

I think that I'll drive from Montour to Spencer through Ithaca in the dead of the night.
And the cold highway lights neither beacons nor guides like sons coming home they fly

And darling, I see you in my mind,
thinking up the words to the perfect lie.

Do you think I'll wait, while you're still away stack the postcards beneath my ring
Do you think I'll hold onto your old wooden bow
and the memories that sleep in my arms?

I think you'll stay, mistaken for shapes that the cold moonlight makes in the dark

Do you think I'll wait, disappear in this shroud across Seneca Lake
for year after year after year?
I don't think you can hear.

Do you think it's alright, if I see you tonight?
Took my loom to the pawnshop and spent the 36 bucks on a knife
so tonight, you're Agamemnon and I'm in the bath changing sides.

Lover, in parts unknown,
please don't come home.
Track Name: Summer, Upstate
Roxanne's got a new dog, a border collie,
she takes her out in the evening, leaves me to lock up at the library
Roxanne and David have been together almost 10 years,
but it's way too late to get married again.
They live back in the woods, in a house up on the hillside,
not ten miles from the farm where she was born.
the geography of a life can be hard to recognize
until the years and miles start to take on form.

Phil's on the library board, got a bad bad tremor in his hands,
he has be so kind to get taken seriously
and he wants me to come along and drive up to the race track
that made this town famous long ago
The whole way up he's cracking jokes and telling stories,
and telling me all about him and his wife's new condo
and there's an art so pure and simple in hiding all that loneliness,
so deep and abiding he can't let it go.

Now I stand, beneath the falls
rainwater tawny and wild
and when I drive back towards the east
I'll dream the water swallows up the town
I cannot carry such heavy weight
all of this life, it is not mine,
it is just lost and gone,
and lost, and gone, and lost, to me.

I rent this room from Pat, her big house is empty
she's glad to have the company, it's just been her and her dog for a long time
I used to be an engineer, she said, been a nurse for a couple years
working the graveyard shift in the hospital up on the hill.
I think she's hiding something, or maybe hiding from it -
summer days, she cleans the pool, the dog's asleep out in the car
but she knows I saw the cigarette she smoked out in the rain
after a methhead nearly died in the ER.

Gill's the only person that I know, under fifty,
she's only come around a couple times, she doesn't know that much about me.
It's not that much, I guess, but it's nice to get a smile,
and when we sing together she always asks if that Dylan song was mine.
Nervous for the future, loves the land too much to leave,
hoping to do good and someday find a job for her degree
out in the marsh, sandhill cranes break through the trees
their call is pure and unbelievable in the clear above the water and reeds.
Track Name: Longing
Sitting under the ribbon lights,
across the river from a friend of mine
let the night pass by along the river,
let the night pass by along the river.

The wind is cold but I wait like a stone
you can't turn back without moving alone
I got a friend 'cross the river, take real good care of me
pallet on the floor, a strong cup of sympathy

Funny how friends, they come and go,
their hearts get tangled in the undertow.

Low tide on the Thames is a naked blade
all the sharpened shoals and old remains
water's fast and dark and I am far from home
water's fast and dark and I am far from home

Colored light on water and an absence in the dark,
I think this city's found a hole in my heart
and it pulls me down, I can feel the water's longing;
all this river's ever been, errant need and wanting.

I feel like a stranger inside my own skin:
I'm choking on the shadows of dead soldiers and kings
there's Roman spears out in the sediment
but I'm saving up my sentiment
for a friend of mine, across the river tonight.

From here Blackfriars is but the length of your hand,
I'd burn every bridge if that ship would just land,
carry you safe tonight along the river
let the night lay down, quiet along the river

In this city built on Saxon bones,
the future's clear but the past unknown
and the truth it runs as fast and cold as water
and the truth it runs as quiet and cold as water
and my friend I might as well try to hold the water
Track Name: Turn to Distance
Until the gears have stopped turning in the desert
beneath the trains that run there from my mind
bearing salt and gold I guess, mostly dry dust and corn husk,
until then I'll be leaving for a time.

When you see what I've been making in this wasteland
(inside a beehive I turn cities in my hands
and I'm lost I must suppose, among things that I must know,
a library of dust, a bridge of sand),

When you see the bright new things that I will carry,
language, terset lines, a turn of phrase,
all the art that I have left: the only grace that I possess,
do you think maybe you'll talk to me again?

I don't feel what I don't make, so certain things are hard to take;
always changing all my thoughts to find myself where I am lost.
If I had something to say,
I'd just write it down later and keep walking away.

When I ride the boat back over across the ocean,
returning from the land of wine-dark seas
I'll stink of lion skins and bronze, metaphors for God
but I'll wash it off until my mind can breathe.

Gears still turn to distance the emotion;
now there's artifice in everything thing I do.
Turn this silent thing to art, give it voice, estrange the heart
from what it's made and what it's turning into.
Track Name: What I Know
Crouched by the side of the picture frame
to see the anamorphic skull that Holbein made
a couple hours in the gallery and you were making jokes
about Degas' mouthful of a name
In the Renaissance wing, we made fun of baby Jesuses,
then stood like statues in front of the Van Goghs.
I've always liked these Impressionists but the impression that I'm getting is
it's better to be seeing them with you.

I don't care what of anything became:
that was one good day, that was one good day.

Leaving in the afternoon, didn't know what to make of it,
seemed like a lot of things could have been in store
sun hanging low over Saint James' Park, getting to know you,
I was learning more.
and I asked you about your favorite memory,
it was so much more than I was hoping.
amazing when you get to know somebody new,
you catch a glimpse of a world starting to open.

I don't think I know a thing about you now,
but that doesn't change a thing about that day,

no, I don't care what of anything became,
that was one good day, that was one good day.
Track Name: Bull's Head
he said, I'm gonna do the scary part
and he put the bull's head on
he said, I'm gonna do the scary part
and the chorus fled the stage

he put the bull's head on,
and his eyes began to glow,
and he burned the whole city down

he said, every man will be a crooked knife
break where his weakness lies
I'll show you the cracks
that make a heart of stone
and someone's gonna have to carry
her son home.
Track Name: From Where I Stand
I could never see for shit -
stared at the winter sun when I was a kid
it blunted my sight if anything ever did.

So now I cannot read the lines,
spiderwebs on the map, just scribbles to my eyes,
between the holes that I burned while searching for a light.

Through these lenses streaked with dust,
I don't like the things I see, hard to know myself to trust
I cannot find my direction, but sitting still is not enough.

now the time that I'm in is made of sides changing in the sand
and now i cannot see my feet for to know where I stand

it gets harder to define
where all of this ends, where I can tell the wrong from right
wheels drift across the dividing line

it gets easier to lie,
to say I see what I cannot and it is easy to decide,
and I know which way I'm going when I leave here tonight.

now the false clock ticks time, 'til the moon is buried in the sand;
there must be a way to what I want but I can't see from where I stand.
Track Name: Near to Me
Ashamed of the face you were born with, brings tears to my eyes
I find it amazing you could hate this beautiful thing
but you were born on halloween, thought you were meant for a mask
so you tear and you tear, try to find what's under your skin.

I place my hands on the beautiful bend in your spine
and I press my head to my father's stuttering heart
and isn't it strange how the shadows trees make in my room
take the shape of a man on his knees in the dark?

Our bodies will fail us but carry they must towards the things that we hope to be good
and I will try, I will try to bear you inside with what little grace runs in my blood

Red faced and howling be near to me, pain in the years.
lay down your anger, pull that blade from your side -
Face the craziness of chemicals trying to murder your mind:
roll the stone off your chest, take a breath, survive.

I place my hands on the beautiful bend in our spine
and I press my head to my father's stuttering heart.
With each quavering beat I can feel you still rage inside me,
as I hold myself tight, I grow around you like rings in a tree.

I watch the crows rise in circle above the roof;
doom comes in many forms, as if we have not seen enough.
Track Name: Passenger
Time on the highway
slowly dulls my mind -
passenger waiting,
still as the white lines.

Open the window,
let the silence out,
open the window,
crows fly into my mouth.

All I do, I let my tongue unwind,
words come out wrong, my hands are tied.

Now that I am speechless
I won't ask you to forgive
the places I'm going,
the places I've been.

A song in my throat,
borne under dark wings,
I don't think I'll be singing,
now I just can't think

Would that the talons tore any chance to recover;
this immense silence holds me like a lover.
Track Name: Changing Signs
Came back home, all the roads had different names,
all my friends had moved away,
the signs keep changing.

Never certain anymore, called an old friend on the phone,
to hear his voice just to know
I'd still see him in a year or so.

home's not what it was, means something different now
north takes the place of south
on a compass spinning

rivers change course while I sleep,
mountains move,
the old maps that I have
are no longer of use

Though the landscapes change, you yourself will remain,
same broken thing, a different place,
what difference did you think it'd make?

Can't escape mistakes, didn't seem wrong but it wasn't right
can't trust the words, can't trust my sight,
nothing left I can define.

Oh vacant, broken language -
words, stay the same,
don't leave me with names
for people now strangers

Came back home,
and I held my father
but my father was old
and my structures of meaning
are starting to fold

and I keep thinking in a tense suspended
between what it means in my mind
and the writing still wet on the changing signs.

the rooms I walk through now, something in them is broken down
names on doors in a quiet house,
all that's left is leaving now

I'll remain as I am, but I can't call it a stand,
when what I've built here in the sand,
is fast and fleeting, a broken meaning.

Stay the same for one more year
and tell me you'll still be here.
Track Name: Nothing Left
Drive like the highway's not frozen behind you,
drive like the winter's not filling your lungs -
spun out on the roadside, my hands are shaking hard,
shame and half-felt prayer on the tip of my tongue

snow piles up on the windshield, still don't know who to call,
i left with no direction, i don't think i've come that far,
There's a flare in the glovebox and a blanket on my lap,
but I've already found you, what's the use in a map?

In my head i play it back, everything you ever said to me
and i know it's a long, long time that you've been trying to make me leave:
so you say, keep driving, keep driving , 'til there is nothing left
but a vacant heart keeps trying, keeps trying, 'til there is nothing left

My hands cradle the wheel, believe I'm holding your head,
stroking your hair, saying take me someplace I haven't been before,
and you turn back on your side, shake me off like a bad dream,
and my own changing language can't tell me what this means.

Call for help, start the car: get back onto the road -
pick a direction, doesn't matter where you go.
Three quarters of a tank, vague hopes, my self-respect -
keep driving, keep driving, until there is nothing left.
Track Name: Restless & Far Away
It is strange to be seeing your face
in two lights on the highway, bruised side of a freight,
it is strange to be seeing your face.

It feels strange to be missing you here,
you would hate to hear me say this, but you are not all that far,
you're the point that keeps me closer than the dark.

I know we don't say these kinds of things, but I really need you now,
I am lost and I keep letting myself down.
I know you see someone good when you are looking at me,
but right now there's so much poison in my eyes,
so tell me that I've lost my way, that my head is not on straight,
I've known you long enough to think you might be right.

The people that I'm talking to make me feel I'm a liar,
and someday soon my mouth will close for good,
but the language that I learned to speak with you came before
the pretense and desire that have me shaking all the time.
Things don't make sense the way they did when we were younger,
all the direction I had in my whole life is gone,
and I'm landlocked and I'm stranded among these fast and changing signs,
but if I have you, I'll always know what side I'm on.

I know I'm hard to hold and I am never around,
but I am lost and I keep letting myself down.
I know you see someone good when you are looking at me,
but right now there's too much poison in my eyes,
so see for me my own true self, remind me who I am,
I've known you long enough to think you might be right.