A Niche Review of Joanna Newsom’s “Ys”

When Joanna Newsom said, “And there was a booming above you that night; black airplanes flew over the sea and they were lowing and shifting like beached whales, shelled snails. As you strained and you squinted to see the retreat of their hairless and blind cavalry, you froze in your sand shoal, prayed for your poor soul. Sky seemed a bread roll, soaking in a milk-bowl, and when the bread broke, fell in bricks of wet smoke, my sleeping heart woke and my waking heart spoke. Then there was a silence you took to mean something: mean, run, sing, for alive you will evermore be, and the plague of the greasy black engines a-skulking has gone east while you’re left to explain them to me, released from their hairless and blind cavalry, with your hands in your pockets stubbily running to where I’m unfresh, undressed and yawning — well, what is this craziness, this crazy talking? You caught some small death when you were sleepwalking: it was a dark dream, darlin’; it’s over, the firebreather is beneath the clover. Beneath his breathing there is cold clay forever, a toothless hound-dog choking on a feather. But I took my fishing pole, fearing your fever, down to the swimming hole, where there grows a bitter herb that blooms but one day a year, by the riverside. I’d bring it here, apply it gently to the love you’ve lent me. While the river was twisting and braiding, the bait bobbed and the string sobbed as it cut through the hustling breeze, and I watched how the water was kneading so neatly, gone treacly, nearly slowed to a stop in this heat, frenzy coiling flush along the muscles beneath. Press on me, we are restless things. Webs of seaweed are swaddling. You call upon the dusk of the musk of a squid: shot full of ink, until you sink into your crib. Rowing along, among the reeds, among the rushes, I  heard your song, before my heart had time to hush it! Smell of a stonefruit being cut and being opened, smell of a low and of a lazy cinder smoking, and when the fire moves away — fire moves away, son — why would you say I was the last one? Scrape your knee; it is only skin, makes the sound of violins. When I cut your hair, and leave the birds all the trimmings, I am the happiest woman among all women. And the shallow water stretches as far as I can see, knee deep, trudging along. The seagull weeps, ‘So long.’ I’m humming a threshing song. Until the night is over, hold on, hold on, hold your horses back from the fickle dawn. I have got some business out at the edge of town, candy weighing both of my pockets down till I can hardly stay afloat from the weight of them, and knowing how the commonfolk condemn what it is I do to you to keep you warm: being a woman, being a woman. But always up the mountainside you’re clambering, groping blinding, hungry for anything, picking through your pocket linings. Well, what is this? Scrap of sassafras, eh, Sisyphus? I see the blossoms broke and wet after the rain. Little sister, he will be back again. I have washed a thousand spiders down the drain. Spiders’ ghosts hang, soaked and dangling, silently from all the blooming cherry trees, in tiny nooses, safe from everyone, nothing but a nuisance, gone now, dead and done. Be a woman. Be a woman. Though we felt the spray of the waves, we decided to stay till the tide rose too far. We weren’t afraid ’cause we know what you are, and you know that we know what you are. Awful atoll! O, incalculable indiscreetness and sorrow! Bawl, bellow, sibyl sea-cow, all done up in a bow, toddle and roll, teethe an impalpable bit of leather while yarrow, heather, and hollyhock awkwardly molt along the shore. Are you mine? My heart? Mine anymore? Stay with me for a while. That’s an awfully real gun. I know life will lay you down as the lightning has lately done. Failing this, failing this, follow me, my sweetest friend, to see what you anointed in pointing your gun there. Lay it down! Nice and slow! There is nowhere to go save up, up where the light, undiluted, is weaving in a drunk dream at the sight of my baby out back, back on the patio, watching the bats bring night in while, elsewhere, estuaries of wax-white wend endlessly towards seashores unmapped. Last week, our picture window produced a half-word, heavy and hollow, hit by a brown bird. We stood and watched her gape like a rattlesnake and pant and labor over every intake. I said a sort of prayer for some rare grace, then thought I ought to take her to a higher place, said, “Dog nor vulture nor cat shall toy with you, and though you die, bird, you will have a fine view.” Then, in my hot hand, she slumped her sick weight. We tramped through the poison oak, heartbroke and inchoate. The dogs were snapping so you cuffed their collars while I climbed the tree-house, then how I hollered, ’cause she’d lain as still as a stone in my palm for a lifetime or two, then saw the treetops, cocked her head, and up and flew, while back in the world that moves, often, according to the hoarding of these clues, dogs still run roughly around little tufts of finch down. The cities we passed were a flickering wasteland, but his hand in my hand made them hale and harmless, while down in the lowlands, the crops are all coming. We have everything. Life is thundering blissful towards death in a stampede of his fumbling green gentleness. You stopped by. I was all alive. In my doorway, we shucked and jived, and when you wept, I was gone. See, I got gone when I got wise, but I can’t with certainty say we survived. Then down and down and down and down and down and deeper, stoke without sound the blameless flames, you endless sleeper, through fire below, and fire above and fire within. Sleep through the things that couldn’t have been if you hadn’t have been, and when the fire moves away — fire moves away, son — why would you say I was the last one? All my bones, they are gone, gone, gone. Take my bones. I don’t need none. Cold, cold cupboard, lord, nothing to chew on! Suck all day on a cherry stone. Dig a little hole not three inches round. Spit your pit in a hole in the ground. Weep upon the spot for the starving of me till up grows a fine young cherry tree. When the bough breaks, what’ll you make for me: a little willow cabin to rest on your knee? What’ll I do with a trinket such as this? Think of your woman, who’s gone to the west, but I’m starving and freezing in my measly old bed! Then I’ll crawl across the salt flats to stroke your sweet head. Come across the desert with no shoes on! I love you truly or I love no one. Fire moves away. Fire moves away, son. Why would you say that I was the last one, last one? Clear the room! There’s a fire, a fire, a fire. Get going and I’m going to be right behind you, and if the love of a woman or two, dear, couldn’t move you to such heights, then all I can do is do, my darling, right by you,” I felt that shit.

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