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.


  1. HUGEly vulnerable. Yes. Oh my friend.... this is just.... stunning. I sit here reading your words, nodding and nodding -- resonating -- and just in complete awe of who you are. Of your beautiful soul that is now visible on your skin. It's breathtaking. You're breathtaking. I so love you, friend.

    1. Oh friend. The way you see me, really see me, ever stops amazing me. Undoing me. You are a healing balm to my heart. Love you so very much.

  2. Oh Amber, I got your vox and I tried to make it over right then but life can take over, can't it? I had some time this morning to come sit with your words because I am sick as a, well, very sick thing. Darned flu-cold-lung thing-y. So I'm tucked in bed with hot tea and a beautiful open window full of lodgepole pine and sun shining on the snow still hanging around and there are creatures all over this place. Squirrels and chipmunks and our chickens wandering back and forth and a few weeks ago a huge cluster of Elk settled in our backyard and just hung around for a good long while and I always, always think of you when I see them. Every time it makes me miss you. The way you see life in nature and the way you inspire others to pause and take it in too. When the birds come out in spring, I'll think of you and the way you taught me to see new and wondrous things. My home here is richer because of that crazy road trip with you. And isn't that what we do for each other? We help each other see a little better? I love that when you look down at your arm a story isn't just being written, it's being revealed. And gah, I know FB is a drag sometimes but I seriously do miss your beautiful face. And lastly, I want to read that book, friend.

    1. Dang, Alia. I sure miss you. Miss your words, your laugh, your face. I am so moved by how you think of me and see more riches in your home; moved by how we do, in the most authentic encounters (such as crazy road trips and sleep deprivation), do this for each other. Help each other see the world with added layers. I'm so sorry you've still got that nasty flu-cold-lung stuff going on. I hate that. And I love all the critters you can see from your room. Huge, huge hug to you, lady. And thank you, for coming over here and leaving this gift.

  3. Amber, you always have a way of using your words to pierce my very soul. I am incredibly touched by this post. I join you in mourning for the way we humans treat the earth and the creatures that inhabit it. Sometimes I think I'd be perfectly happy in a world that just contained plants and animals. I have cried over trees cut down, over animals neglected and abused, over rivers polluted and oceans full of waste and scavenged by heartless human greed. It makes me sick, and sad, and so, so angry.

    My son has a beagle, and I love him so much. People have often asked me why I have such an attachment to him. I can explain some things, yes, but there's always something intangible about my connection to him. All I can say is when we are together, there's just something that feels *right* - like the world is aligned like it's supposed to be. Does that make sense?

    Human and creature, human and creation.

    Yes, we belong to each other.


    (By the way, your tattoo is simply stunning. I love the meaning of it, and perhaps most of all, I love the secret door. Perhaps it opens to Eden, when everything lived in perfect communion, safe and secure in belonging...)

  4. That is a gorgeous tattoo! I love tge choice of birch trees. The way the old skin peels off of them to reveal a new stronger one. This is so perfect for you!