The Man Who Turns The Earth

May 9, 2012

The other day, I was walking down Union Street past the casket company on my way to work. I take one of two routes:  past the caskets, or past the unemployment line; both routes remind me just how lucky I am to be walking to work.

As I walked past the factory, I saw every one of the workers standing at the door of the building, staring rapt at some men and machines outside digging a ditch in the street so they could lay new sewer lines. Seriously: a line of about a dozen men all standing slack-jawed, watching other men dig as though they’d never seen anything quite so gripping as a hole being ripped into a street.

It occurred to me that it made sense that guys who were so fascinated by digging would go into the coffin industry.  And then this morning I wrote these lyrics, which do not yet have a tune. (FYI: while my Dad also appreciates a good backhoe and deep ditch, the song is not autobiographical… my Dad seems pretty pleased with his daughters and granddaughters.)


The Man Who Turns the Earth

My Papa was a digger, and his Pa before him.
He dug up half the county to bury people’s sins.
He lived to watch his shovel turn the heavy earth.
He’d drop men in the pit he dug, then tell you each one’s worth.

CHORUS:  Gravedigger, he’s the last man you ever could impress. / He’ll always find you wanting, less or more, more or less.

My Papa always hated that he never had a son.
“Graveyard’s no place for a girl,” he’d say when day was done.
I left my Papa’s county, vowing never to go back.
I’d do him proud, and make my way to the right side of the tracks.

Once I had spent some long four years off getting my degree
I found a job in Brooklyn at a casket factory.
I sit up in the office, I balance all accounts.
When someone buys a fancy one, I bill the full amount.

CHORUS:  Gravedigger, he’s the last man you should try to impress. / No box that I could sell would make you different from the rest.

Last week machines arrived out front to dig up Union Street.
And all the workers stopped to watch them rip up the concrete.
They stood there, staring fascinated at the growing mound,
Those coffin makers long to put a shovel in the ground.

Although I’ve made my life here, my Papa still has won.
He’s made me curse my fate because I’ll never be his son.
I know down to the penny what my company is worth.
But I still have no value to the man who turns the earth.

CHORUS: My Papa, he’s the last man I ever could impress. / He’s always found me wanting something more, more or less.

Chee May 16, 2012 at 1:33 am

“My Papa was a digger” is a very evocative opening, to my ears.

And I can certainly understand your puzzlement as to why funerary workers would be so fascinated by ditch-digging, and I could explain this as a psychological response to the demolition (emasculation?) of something so otherwise concrete, permanent, and indestructible. But I think, in all honesty, it’s just because it’s so cool to see!

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