Explain Your Tattoo To Me

When I point to your tattoo and ask, “What’s that?” you will tell me. But your tattoo already speaks. Your explanation will only be another layer of sediment on top—the foundation has already been spoken.

I know, because I, too, have one. A horse on my forearm, the same breed of horse my family sold when they moved to Kansas from Vermont. First of its kind west of the Mississippi.

“It’s so clunky,” my mother said when she first saw it.

“It’s a tribute to this family,” I said, but the horse says something else, I think.

This is what your tattoo says, what it tells me about you while you move, unaware, as though you are asleep:


I got a tattoo because I grew up being told I was special, and no matter what I do or what I look like—it seems my body is the only solid thing that no one else has. To brand it with these tattoos is the only proof I can find that I was not lied to.

I have become a walking, talking platform for images and slogans, I know this. I wish to make the images a physical reality.

In a world of instant, throwaway interaction and hyper-stimulus, I crave permanence.


This is a star or a series of stars. Commonly on the neck, behind the ear, or the foot.

Everyone can see stars and talk about them, but stars can’t see or hear them back. I’d like to think that my thoughts are also that way. I have ideas and predictions and hopes, but I’d rather people not challenge them. This is not because I am pigheaded, but rather because I know I am not solid. I am scared of failure like everyone else, and stars never represent failure. They are a job well done. Or, they are the moments before failure, a sight for which to strive, too far away to shatter.

My self-image is bright and beautiful, but I also understand it’s reproducible, like a screen print of Marilyn Monroe. I am strong so long as the crush and glow of modern humanity doesn’t drown me out. When it does, I am silent.

I wait to be noticed. When I am not, I disappear home.


This is an animal, but not a bird. Commonly on the shoulder or the chest.

I want to play pretend until it is real. When it is, I want to consume what I have created until it nourishes me, and there is no trace of it left. I want to trust myself to the point of blindness, not just in grand gesture, but in completing banal tasks, as well. Fear of death doesn’t eat at me—I eat at it. I vomit this fear in short bursts but I recover quickly. I feel pleasure in swift waves that I attempt to extend through external means—exercise, costume, drugs.

I smell truth, but sometimes I don’t want it. My smile is rare and wide and often false. I find what I need.

I can fuck for hours.


This is a symbol from my heritage, my family far gone and away. Commonly on the wrist or the forearm.

I am made of corresponding parts that can’t be controlled, that often float away from me or swallow all the rest. I can only be held accountable for my mistakes and my triumphs as a vessel for my past. When you punish or reward me, you punish or reward a memory. Each part of me has its own mouth: the myths of my childhood, my mother, my ancestors, the person I wish to be but never will.

The ink gathers it all together. The symbol is a signet to be flashed when I celebrate or feel I must fight.


This a piece of plant life, but not a flower. Commonly on the upper arm or ribs.

I like to feel useful and underappreciated. I like to weave through traffic and pretend I am indifferent to it. I like to know everything, but only when I am asked.

The dirt and I understand each other. The dirt isn’t just earth; it is imprisoned chaos. We put it in jail, and I am the appointed guard. I want to mirror its productivity and mystery, and in return, I ride on it and form it into something else, because I know what the dirt wants. The dirt was always waiting for me and me alone. Even the parts I have not touched are mine, an expanse on which to meditate. I will massage the dirt into what everyone needs, and then save it from their abuse. To conquer and nurture are the same thing.

We fight like a married couple on the way to paradise, the dirt and I.


This is a person or a part of a person, or at least it resembles a person. Commonly on the thigh.

There is another version of me out there somewhere: a spirit, a clone, a fraction who split from me and traveled a different timeline. On occasion I see them, feel their tug, but they can never follow me. They never enter my house. My house is a fortress against them, a fence built of stacked conveniences and comeliness I have assembled, spaced perfectly, and spiked with the story of origin. I know I am at rest there, protected, melding one element to the other.

When I leave my house, I do not run from the ghosts, but I run toward a place where they are not. My clear foresight is not my fault. I see paths fall in strings from my fingers, my feet, that I must pull and twist and put to good use.

This is why I double a person on my body: to remind myself of what could have been, what could be, why I must run.


This is an abstract shape. Commonly just above or below the elbow.

First things last: I am never satisfied. I seek well-planned discord, flat dimension, and soft-focus clarity. I never think I will find it; therefore when I do find it, I am disappointed. I wish I never found the things I’m looking for so I had real cause to be dissatisfied. I love all that I can carefully misunderstand. I champion the dying, the impossible, and the sensation of fumbling through the dark, touching objects suddenly unfamiliar, renaming them.

For example, a triangle: a nipple on a person lying down. A square: a poorly made coffin. A circle: a mistake. These shapes serve me well in bright offices and overcast mornings, fueling me with whatever they left from their liquid meaning the night before, now crystallized.


This is a bird. Commonly on the shoulder.

When I read, or listen to someone speaking, the words presented to me dissolve into small bits of fire, which I take for whatever small bits of fire are worth. Ideas mean much more to me than words. I spend all of my energy to remain within reach of ideas, but always tortuously short of them. Words anchor. Pictures skew. Music is closest, but a song only lasts so long. What I am thinking looks like the sound, what I am feeling sounds like a picture. I cannot explain.

Sometimes it is enough, to admit this failure. But sometimes it is not. I keep going, because the right idea is there: it is either trying to break through to all of us, or it is something we must invent ourselves.

When we find it, we will know. I will never lie to you, convincing you I have found it. I would rather die knowing I was wrong.


This is a name. Commonly next to the heart.

There are a million people with this name, but no one can see to whom it was really attached, except for me. I want to remember that this person was the first, the first person to die, the first person be born, the first to raise their eyebrows in communion with a stranger when something out of the ordinary happened the street, the first to pick up multiple avocados at the store, feeling for the ripe one. I know this isn’t true, but to remember is to make up things.

As long as I am alive, the name will sound in people’s heads as they read it. Over time, the name says itself until its syllables and letters become a monotone, far from the human it was supposed to commemorate.

But the noise made from a tangle of lines is not the end for this name. If you’ve ever heard an abandoned car alarm, the call of locusts, a skipping CD, you know an endless loop of one sound becomes a new sound. There is hope. There are a million people with this name.


This is a place–a skyline, a map, an outline of borders. Commonly on the ankle or shin.

I am spread through the city in streaks of what I have bought, those I have imitated, and spots on the concrete or grass where I have been most weak. In those spots, the place either forgave or ignored me; I’m not sure, perhaps they are the same. I am grateful to it for not conforming its shape to me in those moments, to freeze and trap me into standing there forever, as a monument to its strength.

I don’t think I could be stuck with myself forever. I am much more content to be part of an audience, a group of appreciators marked together by graphic signals, by song lyrics, by parades.

I can find these markers anywhere, and because of that, I am never alone.


This is a flower. Commonly everywhere.

What is the worst outcome of a journey toward untouchable beauty? What would you look like walking into heaven? What task does my presence ask of you? I ask questions that can only be answered in gesture. I ask questions to receive the same pleasure an artist receives after a piece of work is finished, and this is why I will always be around to see the answer.

Do it for me, whatever it is. Do it while looking at me. Do it so I can do it with you. Do it so I can do it better.

I have found the perfect thing. The perfect thing for this time and place, that I know you will love.

Wherever I go, I live there now.

Front page image by :: FLUTTER ::.

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