When we came across an abandoned playground it had just started to rain, giving the grass an open, welcoming, lush scent that made the area feel like it was calling out to us. We were too grown up, too big, too adult to really enter the play area, but there was an old swing set that felt more attainable. The swings were covered in rust, and looked like they hadn’t been used since we were kids, but we took the chance anyway. You could have called it a time machine, but everything was off, different, weird. I couldn’t get the momentum I used to, and the subtle bouncing of my breasts going up and down with each push of my legs made me realize I was far past the age where things like swing sets were appropriate. Being in this area for children felt like a dome, a sanctuary, from things like death, bills and responsibility, but even being there on that day was awkward. That lush feeling that the rain had given off earlier turned melancholic and the longer we spent doing things we cherished as children the more uncomfortable it became. We knew we had to leave all of that behind. We’re too far down the rabbit hole for this to have felt reassuring. When we left the playground it faded into the distance as we walked further into the mist until it wasn’t visible any longer. We only went there to keep grief at bay; attempting to wash the death of a loved one off of our skin, and escape the mourning of things out of our control, but even with this effort it was impossible to take anything with us when we left the playground. It was already gone. It had been for a very long time.
An elder said there was only two and she wasn’t one. From above he decreed that this is how things would be and how things were. Fate handed down from masked figures, perceiving the future. Prophets and clerics with scalpels and gospel in their words. She grew up in the grips of many gods who said she’d be one way and not the other. Racing to the cliff of a death sentence they couldn’t foresee. With hammer on stone in the force of her voice she twisted the fate they handed down for her and walked a different path. One of blasphemy, a bottomless pit, Gomorrah. Hers. Flesh bent under her own will, with new definition. New commands. Crashing waves in the chaos of truth and the bed of Lilith that she called a home. Cast into hell for having lived a life and seeking more. She was covetous, a prophet of her own, with clipped wings in a torn babydoll dress. Crucify me in the arms of womanhood if you must. Acknowledging you were wrong. A lineage of Hester Prynne. The Witches of Salem. Yoko Ono. The imperfect woman. The shapeshifter. The transgressor. The snake. She knew all of this to be true, and in their scrolls they knew it said the same. All it took was one bite, to want more, when she knew hunger. She finished the apple, and threw the core into the soil. Only a shell. Soon, it would be something else.
By: Willow Maclay
I’ve always really liked the front cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. There’s this girl and she’s clasping onto Dylan’s arm as tightly as she can. It looks cold outside in that way filmmakers romanticize about when they make films about New York City, and when I look at this image I can hardly blame them. The girl has the biggest smile plastered across her face that I’ve ever seen on anybody, and it makes me wonder if I’ve ever had a moment that brought me as much joy as this girl is experiencing in the presence of Bob Dylan. I’ve never done any research about who she was or what her relationship to Dylan might’ve been, because for me that would destroy the illusion of the emotional simplicity of the image. I look at this image and I know exactly what Bob Dylan means when he sings “She gave him a rainbow”. Doesn’t matter to me that the real meaning is probably tied up in anti-war sentiments, because love can have two definitions. Dylan knows this too.
I get really swept up in her eyes whenever I listen to this album. They’re so wide. Clear. Honest. I know the feeling of having my head pressed up against the brown leather jacket of someone I care about on a cold day. But even if I didn’t have that experience there’s so much texture in the image that looking at it means feeling the same things that this girl does. The second track on this album is Girl From the North Country and I wonder if that song is about her. This album is filled to the brim with images of war and songs that would become protest anthems and then songs of nostalgic days gone by and then golden oldies and then history, but this song slipped through the cracks. Dylan re-recorded it with Johnny Cash years later and it’s become the go-to version of the song since. On this album it’s like a port at sea, where the author gets lost in something that’s slipping away right in front of him. Her soft yellow hair. Mine’s yellow too. In December of 2014 my husband and I were walking in the woods in his hometown. It was cold, but I didn’t mind, because I was underneath his arm. Like the girl with Dylan. When I was a kid I always wondered what being a woman would actually feel like and I have no clearer answer than this song. When we were walking home it came up on shuffle and it lifted something cinematic out of the air during our first Christmas together. I always hated Christmas, because I never got what I wanted. We kissed in that way people do when they talk about old Hollywood, and he put his hand on my breast and this song was given new context.
We kept walking through the woods until we approached the cemetery where his grandfather had recently been buried and I placed my hand on the cold grave, but I didn’t feel alone at all. There’s something spiritual about hope and memory and longing and my husband tells me that his grandfather would have liked me. Bob Dylan is now about the age of my husband’s grandfather when he passed away, but it doesn’t feel like Bob Dylan could ever die. He feels more than human somehow. I grew up with his music when it was already considered American history. He’s no different than Abraham Lincoln or Betsy Ross or Mickey Mouse. When I listen to Dylan it’s easy to get sucked into his gravitational pull with the currents of his words and the prose I might not ever understand completely. Listening to Dylan is sometimes like reading the Bible. It feels just as sacred, more even, and we give songs and artists a god-like stature because to make someone feel an emotion with such clarity is the same thing as righteousness. The same thing as grace. Bob Dylan is god. Judas for some. But when I look at the front cover of this album he doesn’t seem so large. He’s boyish, and he’s cold just like her. There’s the smallest glimpse of his lips brimming. A secret smile hidden in the corner of his mouth. When Dylan sings it comes across like hymns or psalms or a call to arms, but on the cover of this album his mouth is closed. In this image he’s human, just like this girl. Walking the streets of New York City, just like everyone else.
Transition feels light. Like a flowing riverbed, curving in and out of rocks that broke free when you spoke your name, and claimed your flesh. No longer was she something without form, or grace, heavy in her step giving way to something agile, something free. Twirl for the first time in your bedroom with that skirt you have hiding under your bed, but put it away before the shame takes hold. Take the same skirt out a little later and let its fabric touch the skin, and the sun, yours for all to see. It comes with a little belt to cinch the waist, to pull you into being, but it’s icing on the cake, because you already let the word “woman” escape your lips. At this convenience store there are a lot of girls going about their day. Another girl is taller than you, another shorter. Average by the grace of god. Just another girl in a group of girls, because you made her be. You only came down for a pack of spearmint gum, but this ended up being more, a birth, a witness, a claim. Not a boy in sight. Not even you. Spearmint always feels chilly, but she’s never been so warm.