June 29, 2022

Thoughts on Tattoos

Thoughts on Tattoos

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows.

There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered,

but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.

Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears.

What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing.

I have relinquished some of the scars.

I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.

I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win.

I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.

On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.

-Deena Metzger, Tree

Lori Anderson calls the body, The Nerve Bible. I see my body as an illuminated manuscript. 

Today we received luxurious couples massages at our timeshare in Carmel Highlands. As the therapist unveiled me, I thought about each of my tattoos, each of their stories. Our scars are our stories. Some people wear theirs on the inside. I wear mine on the outside, and they're pretty.

I endured my first tattoo when I was 18 years old, after a vacation in Key West, Florida.My boyfriend and I just saw the play, Talking With, Eleven Monologues with Extraordinary Women. The protagonist was covered in tattoos and told us each of the stories. I was entranced. The next day there was a bright yellowy orange sun inscribed on my left hip. Many, many years later it was joined by a blue crescent moon .

Now I am fifty-five, and have over three dozen. Usually I get about one a year but it just depends, notwithstanding COVID. My last tattoo was a mother-daughter bonding ritual when Amber came to Santa Cruz this February to get married. We both got inscribed one of our favorite quotes from the Talking Heads “Once in a lifetime. Same as it ever was.” 

I have mermaids, fairies, butterflies, dragonflies, Amber’s initials, pentagrams, hummingbirds, cats, the four directions, the red Chinese symbol for double happiness. There are black roses, pink roses, crimson passion flower, purple morning glories, pale green rosemary for remembrance, and my absolute favorite, bright orange California poppies. I have a huge back piece of an art deco woman by Mucha with a spray of olive green marijuana leaves behind her. 

I balance my tattoos between blackwork and color, neo-primitive and modern,  Celtic knotwork contrasting abstracts. Left and right, small and large, I've mapped out my body several times and choose carefully. I'll find an image or symbol  that I fall in love with, and pop it into my “Folder of Desire.” Minimally a year, but often many more will pass before I decide to permanently carve this particular totem on my body. 

For my 50th birthday, I chose  twin spirals with three dots (maiden, mother, and crone) on the inside of each of my wrists. Spiral in, spiral out. What is most significant is that they are the only ones that are always visible. I tend to cover my tattoos, and not just when I’m around my mother, who is appalled that I still “scribble on myself.” While tattoos are way more commonplace than thirty years ago, especially here in California, I think they are distracting. And they are so personal for me. Well, and for my lover, who else will see the way these particular vines twine around my breasts, connect with my spine, embrace my hip, grace my thigh, adorn my calves. Besides for the massage therapist.

My favorite tattoo is the roundabout sign when you go down to the wharf. I would walk by this every Wednesday when volunteering at the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center. I just knew this would be my next tattoo, because you know, in Santa Cruz, there is always a roundabout way.