Chris likes to touch the tattoo on my leg, where the lines are still raised under the skin. It’s a peony, stippled along the curve where hip turns to thigh, under the high arc of my bone, following the geometry of my body. I made the tattoo artist place and re-place it three times, until the blue lines on the tracing were so faint I thought he might need to draw parts from memory. It peeks out of my shorts, edges out from the hem of miniskirts. People, mostly men, have noticed it, wanted to touch it; a surprising few have kissed—that is, I’d have expected more to want to taste it. But I can understand their apprehension. Ink is an invasion, it gets under the skin. I wonder if they worry I might stain their tongues.
There’s a small tattoo, a drawing of a fly, on Chris’s inner arm; I find a way to kiss it every time I see him. He’s got a few, all with obscure histories; placed arbitrarily on the citizen of his body like visas stamped by a customs agent who didn’t pay attention to the grid of the passport’s pages. I spend time with each one, learning.
Ink sits at the juncture of a number of my interests. Always, first, the pain: my first tattoo at eighteen, a stick-and-poke done in the apartment I would live two years in. Pale, dotted, gibbous moon. Ankle. After that the tracing of a key that left me giddy with laughter, blown-out from endorphins like an overexposure, it stippled too—a tattoo, like the movement of light or a waveform, is only a series of points—into the soft meat of my right bicep. Even now I think about how good it felt and shudder.
Is it visual? Sure—the line of the body interrupted, doubled, tripled, etched again. I used to draw every day. But less visual than one’d think. I’ve never thought that the poetics of a tattoo meant much of anything to anyone outside of its object. It’s more the sheer eroticism of the process, the permanence, the rock-n-roll stupidity it takes to pay someone to drop a needle, over and over, with its black bead of ink, under your skin. A guy I hooked up with a few years ago was impressed by my precocity, by my youthful tattoos—which is maybe a kinder way of saying I was just foolish enough for him.
When he goes down on me, my knees hooked over his shoulders, there’s a tattoo on Chris’s arm that ends up next to the one on my thigh and I like it because it’s like they’re talking, like they’re realizing they’re made of the same thing. If I choke him while I’m on top—harder, he says, but I’m afraid of hurting him—my little finger fits into the hollow of his collarbone and there’s another trace blossoming there, as though I helped make it so.
There’s something sweetly stubborn about getting a tattoo, as if by marking ourselves we might underscore our difference; as if by documenting our histories on our bodies we surely won’t forget. More than once I say aloud I want new ink. I’ve been thinking about it all the time. I run my fingers over my arms, up and down, as if trying to dowse for the perfect placement, but nothing speaks to me. Here’s a metaphor: It’s because I never know what I want. Or, that’s a lie—all I want is the dull buzz of the needle; the stinging under the skin; the flat, voiceless mark. When you’re easy everything is easy to love. I crave the pain of it, its banality; how predictable.
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