Needles and knives. Maori face chisels. Dark ink and scars. Tattoo – from tatu of Tahiti, tatau of Samoa, Tongan tatatau – from the tapping tools of tattoo. Symbols of virtue and strength worn by warriors and kings, mariners and queens. Tattoo from before prehistory. Tattoo for souls lost, and found. Four inked stories in swirls and silks and symbols, the what and why of four lives, seeking and finding, declaring this is me. Their lost-and-won battles, their peoples, their idyls – in tattoo. These four I know and admire. These four I love. My canvass is empty: I wear my scars inside. These four exhibit their beautiful selves in tattoo. Ways to be.
Paul and His Victory over the God of Death
I had wanted a tattoo for years, but couldn’t decide on what I wouldn’t regret. We weren’t happy together, and when we separated, I should have been happy alone – I was free – but the darkness closed in and accused, “You’re a failure. Failure. You don’t matter. You should just kill yourself.” Why is suicide always on the table? I don’t want to die. I drove down dark streets fighting with the voice that wanted me to end it all. And then, there was the parlor, and he said he had a cancellation so he had time for me, and I knew, finally, suddenly, what it was to be. I want these words and I wrote them on a paper scrap, and he said, Sure, but we’re going to make it art, not just words, ok? Okay. I might have given in, given up, but everything fell into place and the words came, the words that saved my life, and today I wear these strong words: What do we say to the God of Death? Not today! I don’t know where they came from, they just came, like electricity, like a bright light, like instantaneous knowledge: a revelation. And I felt whole. And I knew I mattered.
Todd the Bear
Dude, I am the bear. I always walked through life’s pine-tree wilderness alone, not needing anyone – or so I thought – and all the time I felt sad and worthless and flawed and needing others desperately, and clawing my way through the thorny crushing wild. I am still that bear, but I no longer walk alone. My loved ones: they are the birds overhead always. I know I am not alone. I know I can make it. But I am still the bear, and I have to make my own way through this dense forest. The paw prints on the path are mine – no one makes them for me – and the directions I travel are mine. The choice is always mine. The path unfolds before me even as I choose it.
Sione’s Island Home
Io. This tattoo is my island, and my family and my clan. My family name means We who carry Kings on our Boats on the Sea. These sea turtles are symbols of my island. These are my people, who fish and sail the sea and climb the coconut palm barefoot and grind the meat and press the milk and drink the ground kava and remember the sacrifice and sadness where the tree first grew. These patterns here, we put them on the big tapa cloth with black hibiscus dye and red hibiscus dye. I am in my people and my people are in me. Io. Malo.
Liddy, Her Angels Entwined
I wore a tiny silver cross, wore it always in faith and in supplication for those I loved, for those I wanted to see protected and blessed, a silver cross on a silver chain around my neck always. One day I sent it to you, my silver cross, to you, because I just knew you needed something special from me, that the tiny silver cross would be your blessing now. And I wear these angels, gently entwined, entwined in the idyl of love, enwrapped in the gift of each other. I wear these angels like I wore the cross, to believe down deep, to cherish, to remember that love is the key, the only key, to that door in the sky. These angels I wear for you – and for everyone – and for me.
I’m not a fan of tatoos, Roger but definitely a fan of your writing.
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Thanks! These good people all gave me permission to tell their tattoo stories and use the photos, which they sent to me. Though tattoo is neither my style, yet I love and admire these special people and their stories – and so I love their tattoos as well.