Once at dinner with a few friends, I was asked why I chose to get tattoos. I explained that I believe people are mosaics, largely shaped by the ways we interact with others, forever leaving fingerprints on one another. For me, tattoos are a visual representation of that phenomenon. Anything I learn at the hands of another that strikes me as profoundly important, I choose to keep it physically on my body. I hope to leave this planet wrinkled and scarred and painted in such a way that people can see the life I’ve lived. Like a friend of mine said, “It’s like pulling your story out from underneath your skin.”
There have been so many people in my life to whom I owe parts of me. If I could afford a tattoo for each right now, heaven knows I’d be in the parlor this instant. For now, a different kind of ink will have to suffice. I hereby dedicate four lines of poetry to each person who has ever changed my life.
I once knew a photographer
whose hands were stained with ink and lipstick,
whose eyes were blurred highway streetlights,
who painted her face for the art, not the glory.
I once knew a soccer player
who paved adolescence through leaves and trees,
who taught me toughness on a trampoline,
whose desertion birthed my self-reliance.
I once knew a girl
made of rope swings and tree houses
who whispered “sisterhood” over a nighttime candle.
She echoes in the raw skin of past.
I once knew a person
whose words were all echoes.
A mouse bound in razor wire.
Her eyes were televisions.
I once knew a Sikh
who plastered on bubbles,
who gave wine (to strangers)
wrung from her own veins.
I once knew a teacher
who evened my wooden legs
and set my paper ship sailing
into the teenage night.
I once knew a Christian,
a foal in the sunshine
who redefined lovely,
her coat on my back.
I once knew a writer
whose words were glass sculptures,
who molded “dainty” and “strong”
into a plate of moonlit noodles.
I once knew a redhead
drenched in Disney honey,
secretly adored for her
I once knew a hermit
who clawed into water,
who screamed stains into eggshells,
whose words burst or were nothing at all.
I once knew a survivor
of drunk behind headlights,
who “went to and fro apologizing”
and cut off her hair.
I once was a girl—
a lonely blank canvas,
waiting for someone
to color me in.