Thursday, January 28, 2010

Felt Impressions

I will have to confess that my tattoo was premeditated and there's no story of drunken mayhem to go along with it. Just another winter afternoon in 1991, Elyria, Ohio. The ice the snow the bare branches the deserted streets a loose piece of siding on a storefront downtown banging in a freezing wind. I'd had to leave Brazil unexpectedly because of new visa regulations, and the culture shock I felt was mayhem in itself. This might be why I don't have the impression that the tattoo process was painful - but it was definitely felt. The tattoo parlor (somewhat to my disappointment) made for a rather tame domestic scene, as homey and tranquil as the laundromat next door, business was slow...

My dear friend Margot who has made the drawings of Big Bed Land Animals on P-in-B, designed the tattoo for me-- it's her impression of my companion of 26 years now, Pablo, an Amazon parrot. She faxed her design - I had never seen a fax before and it was really somewhat disturbing. As were many things about that winter - if it hadn't been for Audrey who took me in to her house and heart out of the psychic and cultural storm I was feeling, it's hard to say how I would have gotten through it. I stayed with her, and she gave me a room to write in - need I say more?

Well, Bink, as he often does, came up to me with some questions about the tattoo as soon as I started thinking about it for Theme Thursday. Always questioning, is our Bink, kangaroo Animal and Pocket Philologist. The Animal Dictionary he's compiling reveals the profound differences between Animal and Monster language. In the process he often struggles with the Oxford English Dictionary - this is one reason his dictionary is pocket-sized for the convenience of Kangaroos and other Animals.

He's got all the Animals wondering about the taxonomy of the Pablo tattoo. Pablo is a Monster, but is the tattoo part Animal?

Yes, I respond, insofar as the Past is a kind of Animal. The same way that Time is a kind of Animal (which Monsters are always unsuccessfully trying to harness to their will, whereas in Big Bed Land it is allowed to wander in its purely wild state.) So it's a different kind of Animal from Rosie the Chinchilla who is part Animal and part furry Monster. And not like the fish on the coral reef dvd either, who are Animals but not three-dimensional, and not like the Animals in the Targ Forest which are insubstantial self-created spirits of Animals.

"It says here you can beat a tattoo?" he asks, and I can tell that he is worried.

Sometimes the best way to answer Bink is to give him more to think about. "Well, I said, tattoos are made on skin and drums have skin heads. But neither tattooes nor drums shave their heads." Bink scratches his own head rather sadly. "You know," he says, "some day you Monsters are going to get so tangled up in your own language that no one will be able to get you out."

"Except for the Great Big Bed Land Bard, Polar Knight," I say and he brightens up considerably.

"Of course!" Bink says. "Polar Knight could cut his way through the Gridiron Knot, if anyone can."

"Do you mean the Gordion Knot?" I ask Bink.

"Maybe," he hedges.

And Polar Knight- our hero!- comes to the rescue once again with a pome:

The Gridiron Knot
Is plumb full of tangles
And language it mangles and mars.
But left to itself
The universe spangles
and burns its words into stars.


  1. Love your tat! I am currently tatless, but two of my three kids sport one. Ohio can have a strange effect on one. :^)

  2. PS...I can see from your self portrait that we own the same nifty little Canon PowerShot!

  3. I think this is the most interesting take on the theme!

  4. Winter, the year you got your tattoo, went on forever. Your Amazonian bird and my first set of drums were our celebration for having reached Spring Break. I remember the young woman artist who inked your tattoo and how she was covered with designs of her own. One of us, I forget who--as I so often do with our conversations and sayings--asked whether she thought she might ever regret having so many markings. With the wisdom of 18, she said, "I never want to be the person who regrets who I am right now." I think of that often, when I feel twinges of self-doubt about paths I've chosen and those I've left behind. Unknotting nots, notting knots--much better as the BBL-ers well know!

    Grizelda sends love. She had so much fun that day with you and Grizelda and all the magic kingdom at our feet.

  5. Oops, I had to type my comment twice because of a Blogger glitch. Gertrude caught the error--SHE sends her love. She also said she answers to Grizelda. It's a twin thing. But she pointed out that this might confuse the Monsters.

  6. I would like to put Bink's dictionary on an ear-ring so I would always have every word in the English language within hearing distance.

    I love,love,love the pome! It is so nice the way it was tied in with the star-writing.

    Lovely take on the theme.

    (I am never tempted to get a tattoo. I have a fear of needles to start with. Kevin nearly got one on our honeymoon in Ireland. He chickened out!)

    P-Kat (We have put up Rufus's photo with a link to B-B-Land!)

  7. nicely take on the theme today. and nice tat!

  8. Dear Willow,
    thanks! And I do like this little camera. Audrey had one of these and its smallness attracted me. I've never done a self-portrait before and it was interesting. I think I might try more.

    Dear Wings and Brian,
    I'm so happy you two liked this! Am I showing my age or simply a certain degree of isolation by saying I never realized a tattoo could be called a tat? I like that- it sounds like a cross between a pet of some kind and a scrap of material...

  9. Dear Audrey,
    I'm not sure I got the year exactly right, but I do remember that winter going on and on! I had forgotten what the tattoo artist said, though when you mentioned it, I remembered immediately - thanks for that! And for notting knots, tee hee, very nice.

    You know I often call Grizelda by the name of Gertrude and I do think you're right - these two share such a kinship that they are happy interchanging names - have you noticed that their voices sound similar too?

  10. Hello Dear Poetikat,
    I am completely entranced by your earring image - wow! And Polar Knight is trying not to blush. We would like to hear more about Rufus...perhaps it's time for another visit, or interview, or first-ever collaborative poem in Animal poetic form?

    Both Johnny Jack and I enjoyed your "Battleground" poem and had a great conversation about it.

    I haven't wanted another tattoo until recently, but there's no tattoo parlor here -but the other day I was doing some research on henna and ancient forms of body art and I'm going to try a design on my hand... we'll see how it goes.

    Thanks for visiting!

  11. Dear Kris,
    but does it beat a mermaid beating a tattoo on a drum?

  12. Are you Australian? Great yarn but I've never been brave enough to have a tatoo ..I wonder what it will look like when I'm in my 60's. Then who knows .. one day maybe.

  13. Dear Baino,
    Your question sounded like a compliment, so thanks!- but I'm Idahoan rather than Australian. We do have spinners of yarns and tellers of shaggy-dog stories that I love to listen to- especially in the rural areas...I really enjoyed checking out your blog, and I'm glad you stopped by!

  14. Dear Eberle,

    I would love to collaborate on a poem with you! I would be honoured!

    So nice to hear that the "Battleground" poem inspired a conversation. That makes me feel really good. Considering that it was spurred on by a very dark source (reading Mark Bowden's account of the Somalian conflict, "Black Hawk Down") it might be very difficult to make any sense of it. I was (if you'll pardon the pun) bombarded with images and ideas all of a sudden the morning after I started to read the book.

    Please post a photo if you do the henna art on your hand. I would love to see it.


  15. Dear Poetikat,
    I have some ideas about our collaboration - but first some apologies - I got very swamped in projects a couple of weeks ago (or more? it's a bit of a blur) PLUS I'm still getting used to blogland. It would probably seem completely strange to you how new and sometimes a bit scary this all is to me. Thanks to Theme Thursday (and your suggestion that I join the crowd) I'm getting better at all this.

    I've been reading your blogs this week and really enjoying them - lovely! I must say first that I think your "Lament of the Fiddleheads" is a truly extraordinary poem - for me it combines two of your poetic gifts I really admire: the playfulness of the rhythms and rhymes you use, and your ability to evoke mysterious landscapes that are ominous as well as beautiful. Enchanting to see these intertwined!

    In fact, I had a great experience reading this - somewhere in the first two stanzas I felt as if I were in the poetic world of Christina Rosetti - in the Goblin Market, one of my all-time favorite poems. I've never actually felt this about any other poem I've read and thanks for this wonderful gift! I wish you would write a long, long poem in this vein...

    I would actually love to write a post including this poem if that would be OK with you? I don't know how you'd feel about that, so just let me know. I see that you like Stevie Smith, another one of my top favorite poets - she also shares some threads with you and Christina Rosetti in my opinion...

    I have read your charming Ted post several times as well - I really like how you build the narrative. And I'm so intrigued by Rufus! Does he ever give the other Animals rides?

  16. I love your wonderful land of fantasy. When I get my tatoo, it will be on my tummy (where my belly button used to be) My daughter designed a sleeping baby dragon for me.

  17. Dear Dreamhaven,
    I love the idea of a sleeping baby dragon tummy tattoo - applause for your daughter! And thanks for visiting.

  18. Dear Eberle,

    I have to say that you have completely taken me aback with your comments. They are perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my work.
    I am overwhelmed.

    I'm just coming to Stevie Smith, really, but I do like what I've read. As for Rosetti, I'm very unfamiliar with her, but have a vague knowledge of "Goblin Market". I am certainly gratified to be even remotely similar to either of these fine poets.

    I'm not a confident poet, or writer, by any means. I always feel rather inadequate and unknowledgeable. I know what I respond to and what I like and somehow I manage to absorb some of the qualities that I admire in others' work, but generally, I feel a fraud next to some of the other people who are writing elsewhere.

    I would be more than pleased should you do a post featuring "Lament of the Fiddleheads". I was writing only topical-found poetry at the time of creating it and it was actually a deviation from the sorts of things I was producing, but it did give me a sense of some potential—not for greatness, you understand, but for something passing as unique and aat least well-done. (Sorry for rambling on about myself on your blog, but you do seem to have opened a well-spring.)

    I do understand how you feel about the blog world. It IS a very daunting environment and there is so much to learn (I learn something new just about blog-maintenance, practically every day). If I can be of any assistance to you, please let me know.

    I'm so happy that you've enjoyed Teddy's Chronicles (there's another blog in itself) and coincidentally, I just picked up a wonderful new fella called "Wally" (but we're calling him Walter as he is much too stately to be a Wally). He's a lovely classic dark brown sugar-coloured bear with moveable arms and legs. The coincidence is that he is currently riding on Rufus's back! They do make a convivial pair!

    Apologies again for such a lengthy comment. I continue to be puffed up by your praise.
    You should know that I am in awe of your diverse knowledge and talent and envision a blissful existence on the farm that both (sorry, ALL) of you lead.

    With fond affection,


  19. Dear Kat,
    thanks for such a lovely response (I do like lengthy, when it's someone I like!)and I really related to some of the things you were saying.

    As I've gotten older and worked with more artists I've come to realize that that feeling of being a fraud is incredibly common - when I heard people far more talented than I am talking about this too, it was a revelation.

    It seems as if growing as an artist doesn't mean not having these kinds of moments (of feeling a fraud, of doubting one's ability, of overwhelming vulnerability) but being able to give them a place in a cycle of creativity, and not shy away when they come.

    Sort of like in prayer (for me, prayer and the creative process seem to have so much in common) where you learn the discipline of letting distractions pass you by - and how to discern, later, what is at the heart of the distraction and how you need to interact with that--if this makes any sense?

    One of my writing teachers long ago told me that one the hardest things for a writer to do is learn to recognize what she does best and to validate her own strengths - I think that's what a good reader can help with. I really count on the "front line" readers of my fiction to help me with this, and it's been more valuable than I could begin to express! And it's a cool kind of relationship to have - I really enjoy reading your work, it's a pleasure.

    I'm thinking that I'll write you my idea for our collaborative work to your email address, so we can work out the details - in case we want to surprise any of our readers...or Animals... I'll be doing that soon, I hope!

  20. That sounds ideal! Thanks, my friend.


  21. Golly, such a lot of commentary. And all very wonderfully considered and written and replies going back and forth. I don't have time to read them all, much as I'd like. Is it because I live in the vortex of the East, with its over-busyness. Everyone striving and racing-- to what? Or is it that I have three children at home? Or that I am just a total loser who can't keep up with blogs?
    By the way, I have always been astonished at what an exact replica that bird is of the one I drew and faxed. Less astonished by its resemblance to Pablo. Much artistic liscence there.

    Signed: busy and insecure in Massachusettes

  22. Dear Busy and Insecure,
    it is hard to ask the questions you are asking (Everyone striving and racing - to what?)when you are in the midst of driving, going to meetings, cooking meals, leading art groups with young students...

    Remember when you had some of your insights that I've returned to all my life - like seeing humans as ghosts whose existence was to move objects from one place to another...we were seventeen or so, in a foreign country, apart from our own family ties- plenty of time for me to memorize passages from La Nausee (ca m'est venu comme une maladie...)that's luxury! Never having to multi-task...

    John was pointing out to me the other day that responsibilities and losses of various kinds just make us different than we were then in many ways if not in all ways.

    The tattoo you designed is perfect, by the way. After all, I get to see the actual Pablo every day - your version is magical and always makes me happy. Did I tell you that I ordered some body-art quality henna and stuff for making tattoos? When you and Iris are here I think we should do to all of you out there in the vortex!

    the blog-world really is different and new. Even though I'm coming to enjoy it, it's hard for me to keep up with! I just love it when you do check in.