Saturday, February 13, 2016

The piece of soul on my skin


I am seething. I am in agony.

I've slipped away to the laundry room, siting in the dark hugging my knees, and I want to slam my fist into a wall. A wall of human arrogance. Greed. Self-entitlement. That wall of we don't fucking care about another living soul unless it profits us.

My husband just showed me a video clip of a fresh atrocity in Mexico. A group of rich entrepreneurs decided to overtake a wetland habitat in Cancun and bulldoze it in the middle of the night. They're going to build more resorts. In the process, they destroyed ninety percent of the wildlife population in the wetland. Killed them, while they were sleeping. 

In the video, a young Mexican man is talking passionately, gently cupping a dead bird in one hand. It was buried in the dirt for two days before they uncovered it. The little bird is the color of the sun and the sky, and one wing is nearly torn from its body. He peels back the wing to show the gaping wound in the bird's lifeless body. I stare at it and my stomach clenches in pain, on the verge of retching.

A this point, I leave the room.

* * * * * 

On our walk down by the lake this morning, we can't escape the depression of the landscape. The low water level exposing garbage. The birds fishing as usual in a lake that is slowly ebbing away. The birds, the trees, the water, continue to emanate beauty.

But it is a searing beauty. An ominous beauty. It catches that elusive crevice between my ribs where I feel heavy things that can't be put into words. It sits there and quietly thrums its lament. And I can't do a damn thing about it but listen, refuse to shut it out, work diligently to undo a speck of the damage that's already been done, vow to do better in all the daily small ways that add up to something bigger. 

And here, again, the rage boils over. We've done this.

There are days I loathe being human.

* * * * *

I cradle my newly tattooed arm in my hands as the tears continue to fall. It seems since I got myself inked, I feel these violations against the natural world even more acutely. They are violations against me now. Maybe because I cared enough to have my own flesh engraved as identification with this nonhuman world that has already tattooed itself on my insides. More than beautiful artwork, which it is, it is expressive of one of my most deeply embodied beliefs: We belong to each other.

My arm hurt so bad at certain points while the artist worked, instead of trying to escape the pain (which I couldn't do), I went into it. I imagined myself as a tree being carved. It didn't take the edge off the pain, but it did channel it. I wonder what a tree feels when its bark is etched with a knife. Is it anything like piercing through a layer of skin with a set of needles? 

And now I have birch trees etched on my forearm. With a great blue heron flying through, a big wooden door set in the background of the trees like the entrance to a secret garden. It's a stunning work of art. And it's much, much more than art. It's one of my deliberate responses to the rage that boils up in me. Harness this, translate it into art, it says. Plant life where you can in all this death. The world is a festering wound of rage, filled with the voices of suffering, injustice, grief, violation, despair. I can add yet another angry voice to this, and it will quickly be lost in the noise.

Or, I can find another way.

This tattoo is my vow to love these others - all these nonhuman others that share the world with us - as I would myself.

At the end of the day, the end of a life, the most stunning works of art are those which have been wholly embodied. 

* * * * *

I wrote that shortly after I got the line work done on my tattoo. Yesterday, I went back to finish it, and it is a glorious painting on my arm. More glorious even than in my imagination, which is saying something for an artist. 

I woke up this morning, swollen and still in pain, popping another 1000 mg of ibuprofen. I gingerly washed my arm and rubbed lotion on it, standing back to see myself in the mirror.

I feel, somehow, like this tattoo is a huge piece of my soul that is now visible on my skin. It's hugely vulnerable, especially when most people look at it and assume "we belong to each other" is referring to my husband. 

What does it mean, then, only a few people have asked.  

Enough to write a book about, I reply.