When The Heart Is Never Open

THAT’S HOW EVERY EMPIRE FALLS

John Prine

October 10, 1946 – April 7, 2020


Caught a train from Alexandria

Just a broken man in flight

Running scared with his devils

Saying prayers all through the night

Oh but mercy can’t find him

Not in the shadows where he calls

Forsaking all his better angels

That’s how every empire falls.

The bells ring out on Sunday morning

Like echoes from another time

All our innocence and yearning

and sense of wonder left behind

Oh gentle hearts remember

What was that story? Is it lost?

For when religion loses vision

That’s how every empire falls.

He toasts his wife and all his family

The providence he brought to bear

They raise their glasses in his honor

Although this union they don’t share

A man who lives among them

Was still a stranger to them all

For when the heart is never open

That’s how every empire falls.

Padlock the door and board the windows

Put the people in the street

“It’s just my job,” he says “I’m sorry.”

And draws a check, goes home to eat

But at night he tells his woman

“I know I hide behind the laws.”

She says, “You’re only taking orders.”

That’s how every empire falls.

A bitter wind blows through the country

A hard rain falls on the sea

If terror comes without a warning

There must be something we don’t see

What fire begets this fire?

Like torches thrown into the straw

If no one asks, then no one answers

That’s how every empire falls.

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