Tattoos (March 16th and St. Patrick’s Day 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I never wanted a tattoo. Not before they began to seem obligatory; not after “tattoo removal” became a thing. When I was young, they were still seen as a mark of likely dark experience, something I was fascinated with but a desire I didn’t necessarily want to advertise. Joni Mitchell sang it best, writing about (her) songs but nailing tats in an expert simile: “You know I’ve been to sea before.” Also, I was (and still am) so little inclined to aggressive engagement I didn’t think I could back up a tattoo. You know?

Later, in the midst of the tattoo boom–there was one of those, right?–two things stayed the ink. The first was (and is) my allergy to bandwagons. When everyone’s doing it, I tend to not wanna, even when the crowd is right, as they sometimes are. But, second and most important, though what tattoos represented seemed to have changed (heck, choirboys and cheerleaders were getting them–even teachers!), I could not imagine any word, phrase or image I’d want to be permanently marked with. I knew if I chose to take the plunge, I would suffer an unbearable dignity to have it removed, so I wouldn’t. I also knew that whatever spoke from my shoulder, or ankle, or forearm (my chest? hilarious!), it would have to really be purely me. And “I” is just not pure.

HOWEVER, one night speculating with my wife, I hit upon the answer. I wasn’t then nor am I now any closer to revealing how far out to sea I’ve been, but, were I forced, here’s what I’d do. First, I’d write these lyrics down on a piece of paper:

Last night as I lay dreaming

My way across the sea

James Mangan brought me comfort

With laudnum and poitin

He flew me back to Dublin

In 1819

To a public execution

Being held on Stephen’s Green

The young man on the platform

Held his head up and he did sing

Then he whispered hard into my ear

As he handed me this ring

“If you miss me on the harbour

For the boat, it leaves at three

Take this snake with eyes of garnet

My mother gave to me!

This snake cannot be captured

This snake cannot be tied

This snake cannot be tortured, or

Hung or crucified

It came down through the ages

It belongs to you and me

So pass it on and pass it on

‘Till all mankind is free

If you miss me on the harbour

For the boat, it leaves at three

Take this snake with eyes of garnet

My mother gave to me.

Next, I’d shop around for the smartest best tattoo artist in town, slap down those lines on her counter, talk her through my justifications and specifications, and say, simply: “I want an image of that specific snake right on the ol’ atrophied bicep here. Feel free to succinctly augment it with a symbolic image or two. Take a couple of weeks to let it marinate, then call me when you’re ready to operate.”

I’m not Irish. But that image, representing those words (not that the uninformed would instantly associate them with the image–Nicole’s the only one I’d need to know), reminding me of that voice and that impulse–well, I’d be happy to see it distorted across saggy skin, if I am lucky enough to be old enough to have it. I think at this point I could even back that tattoo up.

Oh, by the way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! If you don’t know Mr. Shane MacGowan’s classic tune that’ll never die, raise a glass, and click:

Short-shrift Division (what I actually listened to yesterday, since Shane’s for today):

Some of that new funk!

Mysterious (Young Fathers’ brand-new Cocoa Sugar):

Not-So-Mysterious (Chopteeth Afro-Funk Big Band’s Bone Reader–I’m a sucker for anything with a Basquiat “tattoo”):

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