The Air Again

June of ’78
Who are you? So arrayed
On the banks of the Lake Adair
Pale lacuna agape
And like the moon in the lake
You are not there
My poor canary

At uncertain behest Maggie blown to the west
In a shimmering dust of gold
With her pale yellow hair they would call her ‘canary’
And I loved my Maggie so
And that is all you need to know

Women here, ain’t ever glad– not even Emma Nevada!
Coming back to share her wedding cake–
Women here ain’t ever free (and Emma never left!) we never leave;
We’d never last, we never asked, we never stake a claim, or complain or take

Not til I made a play for a parcel that lay
On the Amador county line
Had the notion that I’d find employ by-and-by
At the Lonesome Willow Mine
But they don’t enlist my kind

In the meantime
Set to prospecting where I was able
and laying my Maggie a table
And when it was warm we would pan
When it stormed, play Vingt-et-Un
And when it was cold they’d come sniffin’ with gold in their hands

On and on and again
On and on and again
You do what you can

Take an eighth of an ounce in allowance for my tax, only a dance
If alone and abandoned and cast aside you know the pastor tried in vain to ask her hand
Even he– eh, everybody did

And I had a plan but they had to sign away my mine
And the deed left us free to scrape and bleed and go to seed and never marry
Not canary, canary, canary, canary, canary, canary, canary, canary, canary, canary

In the spring of that year when the tinker was here
Gals would hire him to mend their tin
I heard ‘em swarm from afar like a storm in a jar
Like a choir of cherubim
Singing him, hymn, hymns

Whispering Maggie had gone (must’ve skipped with someone)
Sounded wrong though it did seem fair
April turned into May and I looked every day for you Maggie
Til I heard they found a whore with the golden hair
On the shores of the Lake Adair

On the slough she was spread, loose and languid and
Dead from the kindness that she had shown
Still she told me her tale lifting veil after veil
To expose a grin of bone
My yellow rose in the ___ blow

And though I long to believe as I muddied my sleeve
And I studied the Wiccan hap(?)
And I want to revive she was never alive but by the grace and the whim and the will and the yen
And the wickedness of men

But what to do then?
I hauled myself up from the shore and
I called at the door of the foreman
I told him and he laughed

So alas there was savagery there:
Left a hole in his heart you could roll
A cabbage in. A cabbage?! Oh no, no, just a little one Maggie, just a little one

On and on and again
Til they saw what I am
And I am never done, I am never done

Went inside for the light
got a paper and a pen
Where to begin?

You sue for the rights, route for the strike
through the alluvium to where it heeds(?)
For putting ___ to the end of ___ the deed(?)
A noose on a live oak tree bent over the saloon tent and
Meant for me and Maggie

Although it wasn’t him
it could’ve have been him
or anyone who had done
What I know so many men
intended when they came or went
so arrogant arrogant arrogant arrogant arrogant arrogant arrogant arrogant arrogant

Held a cloth to my hands
Taking stock of my plans
Well, there was something I had to make right
I took his old buggy whip
And I lowered his skip
In the glow of the sodium lights
With a load of dynamite

Maggie said, “I am here”
And with a touch on the ear(?)
“After thirty years down in the mines
Help me lead out the mules
Help me free the poor fools
Let them see for the very first time
They were blind, blind, blind”

Then we rode for the _____ and we beckoned, ooh, reflectin’
And she opened her neck like a stream
I saw the Father appear, heard her sob in my ear
Like a mob of cherubim
Howling, “him, him”
It was him
It was him!

So I threw a charge down the shaft
In a cart with the pastor
Who spat and evangelized
He was the last and the worst
Canary always goes first
To sing where the waters rise
(Hear her sing, go on now, Maggie)

On and on, on and on, on and on and again
And on and on
On and on and again
On and on and again
Then a knock and they fall in
knock and they all fall in
And down and in, and down and in

We pass away
But we pass it on like a baton down in the mine
And so they return
Pull the pumps, fill the sumps ___ something they will never learn
They will never learn
And even if the churn drill and the stamp mill and the Pelton wheel
And the smoking furnace all a’burning, overturning, earning
She will never breathe the air
Again air again air again air again air again air again air again air again air

Like the screech of a flare
Or like they’re reaching for air
Beneath the smoldering eiderdown
Veins of gold, still outstretched
In a silent arrest
For miles and miles around
And if I’m underground…

Let me join in that line
Let me toil in that mine
Let me find what is hiding there
Let me dig where I durst
Let me drink when I thirst
Let me breathe the peril air
And breathe for my canary
And breathe
Let me breathe
Let me breathe for my canary
Breathe for my (whispered: canary canary canary)
Breathe for my
Canary always falls first
Breathe for my (whispered: canary canary canary canary)
(repeated 2x)


Played for the first time at Joanna Newsom's surprise concert on March 22nd, 2023. Lyrics are the community's best guess until an official recording comes out.