Honey, Let’s Get Tattoos: Tattoos and Embodiment

Continued from a previous post. Read part 1 here

Tree tattooAfter my wife Katie and I decided to get matching tattoos, we spent months pinning designs and discussing placement, and—let’s be honest—fighting over pretty much every detail. It probably had been easier to choose our children’s names. We’re a stubborn and volatile couple, so there was no chance this would be a sweet story; it could only be a struggle of wills. We arrived, exhausted, at a conclusion, but somehow still grateful for one another, and when we finally got to the tattoo parlor, it could only have been anticlimactic.

Our artist, a large bald man named Bear with tattoos all over his arms, neck, and head, told us to walk around for twenty minutes or so while he made the stencils, giving us the opportunity to argue one last time about where to get marked. We had agreed on tree of life designs—mine more Celtic and hers more organic.

The tree invokes diverse mythologies, not least that of Genesis where it represents the source of eternal life in Christ. It also hearkens to an image of growing together from the sermon Katie’s grandfather gave at our wedding. We’d get the design on our inner forearms—my left, her right—so that they’d sort of knot up whenever we held hands, ‘cause we’re sweet like that.

Agreeing to get a tattoo in the first place had been something of a process for me, and it brought me in touch with the conflictual relationship between my theology of the body and my actual emotions about my body and my wife’s. When we actually pulled the trigger, we both learned something about ourselves. She learned she was not nearly so casual as she had thought herself: She reneged on the forearm placement and opted for her back. I learned, to my own surprise, that I existed in space and time.

Maybe that’s dramatic, but that’s how it felt. When I woke up the next morning with a large, black, knotted tree on my arm, I felt a different relationship to the world than I had the previous day, what I knew was embodiment. [Read more...]

Honey, I Want a Tattoo

By Brad Fruhauff

Matching TattoosIf Katie had had a tattoo when we met, I probably would have married her thinking it quirky or even, perhaps, kind of cool. But when we married her only unusual body mod was a tasteful nose ring.

Fast forward twenty years. Out of the blue she says to me: “I want a tattoo.”

My first response was not, “Oh, that would be quirky and even, perhaps, kind of cool,” but something more like, “What, aren’t you happy in our marriage?”

The response in my head, at any rate. Out loud, I did what I usually do when I’m uncomfortable: grunted noncommittally and changed the subject.

My reaction surprised me. When I thought about it, I didn’t have moral objections, and I wasn’t convinced myself by the social objections. Why was I so uncomfortable?

Working out the answer took me on an unexpected psycho-spiritual and theological journey. [Read more...]

Autistic Lives Matter

4121837708_b3d12f0f30_oWhen I first met Daniel Bowman Jr. at the Festival of Faith and Writing, we both experienced that you’re-not-how-I-pictured-you-from-Facebook moment. While he may not have felt self-consciously compact, I became quite aware of my own awkward, lumbering stature that banged into a book table or two. Still, I tried to make a good impression while obsessing over the fact that I wasn’t wearing earrings twenty minutes before my appointment to read a poem at the chapel.

“I’ll feel naked up there without earrings,” I told him. “Wanna come with me to the campus store to find some?”

Nice to meet you. I’m neurotic and say inappropriate things.

Dan, on the other hand, was fighting a whole ninja army of thoughts: What do I say to de-escalate the anxiety rising up from standing in the middle of a conference with hundreds of people? How can I be endearing and likeable? If I’m witty will she want to get to know me better?

We not only survived the encounter, but over the next couple of years, grew in our friendship. We shared our writing, spent time with mutual friends at retreats and conferences, and even set up a co-reading at a local coffee shop in my area. Meanwhile, I began to observe some quirky patterns in Dan’s behavior—nothing too worrisome, since we are, after all, poets. But he often avoided eye contact or had trouble transitioning to hellos and goodbyes. Sometimes he became agitated during unpredictable social situations. [Read more...]

Poetry Friday: “Annunciation” by Katharine Coles

Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

Of all Gospel passages, I think the Annunciation is the scene most represented by poets over the centuries. So I’m always amazed when a new poet has the confidence and vision to re-imagine the scene for us afresh. And that’s exactly what Katharine Coles does in “Annunciation.” I’m taken first by her daring doubling in the opening line: “what occurs occurs…” The mirror imaging of the words expands into the mirroring of the angel and the virgin: neither of them, astonishingly, “matters.” The poem then moves into what does matter: images of light, scissors, openings catch my breath as I realize that the Incarnation is what is being figured here. Then, “we” enter the poem; and, disturbingly, we don’t behave in the self-forgetting way that the angel and virgin do. The poem is dotted with particular questions (“Of? Or to?”); yet really the whole poem hangs in the air as a question: where do “we” fit into the Incarnation? Can we even comprehend it as along as “we can’t forget ourselves”?

—Peggy Rosenthal



Annunciation by Katharine Coles

What matters is what occurs occurs
Between them, not to them. It’s only that
The angel doesn’t matter, nor the virgin.
A blade of light scissors the air [Read more...]

Above Calcutta

Kalkata sun

By Laura Bramon

The summer before you died, I hid on the roof in Tollygunge. I walked part of the way home from Sudder Street and by the time I got to the apartment building where I was staying, the sooty red sunset had spent itself. Dusk sifted in the quarter’s dim air, and from the park by the main road a wedding feast’s smoke, incense, and music rose up from beneath a red lit tent. I had lost my keys; I couldn’t get into the little apartment. But I could get into the stairwell, so I went up to the roof.

I thought I was alone above Calcutta.

The trip to this city had been planned quickly. I was offered a task and an adventure, a chance to do new work; I would stay with three young American men in their makeshift office-cum-apartment, which amused me. But you were sick and I didn’t know if I should go.

“When would you come back?” you asked when we talked on the phone.

“I’d only be gone a month or so,” I said. [Read more...]