Inspired by a 1962 photograph of Sylvia Plath, I began to wear my own hair in a Dutch crown braid. This type of braid is taught to me via youtube tutorial led by a lady with a British accent. Sisterhood is powerful, knowledge passed down. Who’s to say this knowledge is not important? A woman in another country helped me to feel closer to a poet whose words have licked at my innards since adolescence. Sometimes it is these small, seemingly insignificant visual cues- fashion cues- that make me feel connected to the words and women I love. I weave them on/into my head, repetitive patterned braiding, one thick red-palomino chunk of hair woven into the next until the circle is closed, a non-angelic halo.
Emily Dickinson is inside of my head often lately. I loved her as a child and she has come back to me in recent years. Recently I dreamed about her while reading the biography My Wars Are Laid Away in Books.
I dreamed about Emily last night
Oh yes I did I dreamed she came
to visit with her family In old-
fashioned clothes and brown hair
Her sister in tow I knew
it was a blind date I was meant
to romance her But Emily and I
were awkward with each
other We made small talk over
her family’s religion We met at
a tiny indiscriminate shop I didn’t
want to scare her She’d come from
the past Emily is not mine not mine
In the end I don’t recall how we split
ways Only that her dress was less
severe than I’d imagined it would be
Time travel seemed natural to me
at the time But I can’t seem to get it done now
In my dream her clothes were plain and brown; they sat easily on her, without the telltale constraint I always imagine in her era of fashion. What we think of now, in relation to Emily’s clothing, is her white dresses. In my love and obsession with Emily I find myself wearing white more often- seeking it out- strange for me, who loves magentas and oranges and greens and blues, new wave colors buzzing like busted chainsaws against each other. I mix the two- throw some calico in for good Willa Cather-esque measure, gravitate to lilys and roses, those markers of faith and love that Emily invokes in one of my favorite poems. I stroke the material of my few garments from the 19th century and try to feel for Emily’s world in them. I want to be closer, and I want to understand. Ever since we met in my dream I have been trying to step back into her world. In my sleep it came easy, but awake there are so many intrusions: cars, cell phones, the computer I write this on. But when I am reading I can begin to conjure it again, and a world gone past opens up inside of me, a universe of the veins. Blood memory, conjured with the help of rotting deep- decayed musty garments rubbing against my skin. I stink of it. Emily D. is close at hand.
I hold these women and their work to me by way of imitative, bastardized copy-catting. Fashion lords over this house of tribute with a bright and stealthy eye. I wake from 1883 and move forward to the closet: in wakefulness there is yet more conjuring to be done.
Photos: Susanna Troxler.
Gina Abelkop lives in Berkeley, CA where she wears floral print '40s frocks and romances Emily D. in her dreams. She also runs Birds of Lace, a feminist press.