My interest in tattoos began in college when my fellow peers started showing up with various images and/or text etched into their skin. Admittedly some of the tattoos fell into the cool/interesting/quirky category (a typewriter on the back on a calf , a song lyric winding around an ankle or flower blooming over the bicep) and some of them fell into the “what the hell?” category (Chinese characters or anything involving a rose). I began to seriously consider getting my own ink towards the end of my senior year in college, but the road toward my own tattoo had some detours.
Tattoos cost money and I was a student for about 7 1/2 years straight (BA, MA & MFA), so that proved to be a bit of a challenge during my 20’s. The bigger challenge was deciding what tattoo I was going to get and where. As I do with most of my major life decisions, I turned to my younger sister for advice. She produced a detailed rendition of a goldfish, complete with hundreds of scales, that her friend had sketched out for her. We thought it was a cool picture but at the end of the day, we didn’t like it enough to follow through. In the following years I considered the image of sweet peas. These were to commemorate my aunt who passed away from ovarian cancer. They were her favorite flower. Then I thought about the greek muses and the idea of lyric poetry. My favorite response to this idea came from my mother, who when I presented the idea/image to her said, “I think that would make beautiful stationery.” While this didn’t deter my desire to get a tattoo, it did convince me this wasn’t my best idea.
Eventually two things happened to inspire me: my sister got her own tattoo. A music note tucked neatly behind her ear. And I discovered the website The Word Made Flesh. Why it didn’t occur to me to think about “literary” tattoos in the first place I don’t know, but the images on this site made me realize that the only tattoo that made sense for me was something to do with poetry. This focused the whole brainstorming process quite a bit because once I realized a line of poetry was the way to go, there was really only one poet that I could look to: Elizabeth Bishop.
Bishop is my touchstone. She’s the first poet I discovered in college that I really love. I’ve read all her poetry. I’ve read her letters. I’ve read her essays. I’ve looked at her paintings. I read the fictional story based on her love affair with Lota de Macedo Soares. I’ve heard it rumored they might be making a movie based on that book (The More I Owe You) and I’ll be one of the first in line if that happens. If you follow my blog, you know I write about her a lot. I love her.
This is all to say, that when I was thinking about lines of poetry that would be permanently pierced into my skin, it didn’t take long to locate a line from Bishop. The line is chose is from her poem “Three Valentines” and reads “…love is feathered like a bird.” “Three Valentines” is from Bishop’s uncollected poems and it is written in three sections, hence the three valentines. The entire first stanza where this line appears reads:
Love is feathered like a bird/To keep him warm,/To keep him safe from harm,/And by what winds or drafts his nest is stirred/They chill not Love./Warm lives he:/No warmth gives off,/Or none to me.
As for my tattoo, it contains that line of poetry and five birds: one for my husband, one for my sister, one for parents, one for my grandparents and one for my aunt (the one I mentioned above). It begins on my left shoulder, continuing towards the middle of my back. I love it.
The actual act of being tattooed isn’t as interesting as the tattoos themselves. I went to a reputable studio here in Indy, Metamorphosis and scheduled an appointment. The appointment wound up coming a few days after my 33rd birthday, and the whole process from start to finish took about 20 minutes. It didn’t hurt that much. The tattoo wasn’t very red or irritated nor was the skin surrounding it. I followed the aftercare instructions and it healed well.
Will I get another one?
Never say never but for now, I am more than happy to have a piece of Miss. Bishop permanently pressed to my left shoulder.