Sawdust & Diamonds

lyrics as sung on Ys

From the top of the flight
of the wide, white stairs,
through the rest of my life,
do you wait for me there?

There’s a bell in my ears.
There’s the wide, white roar.
Drop a bell down the stairs.
Hear it fall forevermore.
Hear it fall forevermore.

Drop a bell off of the dock.
Blot it out in the sea.
Drowning mute as a rock;
and sounding mutiny.

There’s a light in the wings, hits the system of strings,
from the side, where they swing —
see the wires, the wires, the wires.
And the articulation in our elbows and knees
makes us buckle;
and we couple in endless increase
as the audience admires.

And the little white dove,
made with love, made with love;
made with glue, and a glove, and some pliers

swings a low sickle arc, from its perch in the dark:
settle down, settle down, my desire.

And the moment I slept, I was swept up in a terrible tremor.
Though no longer bereft, how I shook! And I couldn’t remember.
And then the furthermost shake drove a murthering stake in,
and cleft me right down through my center.
And I shouldn’t say so, but I know that it was then, or never.

Push me back into a tree.
Bind my buttons with salt.
Fill my long ears with bees
praying please please please love
you ought not
No you ought not

And then the system of strings tugs on the tip of my wings
(cut from cardboard and old magazines):
makes me warble and rise, like a sparrow.
And in the place where I stood, there is a circle of wood —
a cord or two — which you chop, and you stack in your barrow.
It is terribly good to carry water and chop wood,
streaked with soot, heavy-booted and wild-eyed;
as I crash through the rafters,
and the ropes and the pulleys trail after
and the holiest belfry burns sky-high.

And then the slow lip of fire moves across the prairie with precision,
while, somewhere, with your pliers and glue, you make your first incision.
And in a moment of almost-unbearable vision,
doubled over with the hunger of lions,
Hold me close, cooed the dove,
who was stuffed, now, with sawdust and diamonds.

I wanted to say: Why the long face.
Sparrow, perch and play songs of long face.
Burro, buck and bray songs of long face!
Sing, I will swallow your sadness, and eat your cold clay,
just to lift your long face;
And though it may be madness, I will take to the grave
your precious longface.
And though our bones they may break, and our souls separate —
Why the long face?
And though our bodies recoil from the grip of the soil —
Why the long face?

And in the trough of the waves,
which are pawing like dogs,
pitch we, pale-faced and grave,
as I write in my log.

Then I hear a noise from the hull,
seven days out to sea.
And it is the damnable bell!
And it tolls — well, I believe that it tolls — it tolls for me.
And it tolls for me.

And though my wrists and my waist seemed so easy to break,
still, my dear, I’d have walked you to the edge of the water.
And they will recognize all the lines of your face
in the face of the daughter of the daughter of my daughter.

And darling, we will be fine; but what was yours and mine
appears to me a sandcastle
that the gibbering wave takes.
But if it’s all just the same, then will you say my name;
say my name in the morning, so that I know when the wave breaks.

I wasn’t born of a whistle, or milked from a thistle at twilight.
No; I was all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright.

So: enough of this terror.
We deserve to know light,
and grow evermore lighter and lighter.
You would have seen me through,
But I could not undo that desire.

O, desire!
O, desire!
O, desire!
Desire, desire, desire, desire.

From the top of the flight
of the wide, white stairs
Through the rest of my life
Do you wait for me there?

Notes

This song tops most lists of Joanna Newsom fan favorites. Ben Sollee did a great cover on the Versions of Joanna fundraiser album.

Other versions