Tag Archives: tattoos

Literary Tattoos: I Go Back to May 1937

This awesome tattoo belongs to Molly:

This tattoo was inspired by a trip to Bread Loaf this summer, where I studied poetry with Ellen Bryant Voigt.  I have always admired the ways we can re-imagine poems outside of typical lineation, how poems can become sculptures and books can be objects of art with textures and breath.  A bit of fortune converged with my desire:  I have a dear friend in my MFA program whose husband happens to be a tattoo artist, and that husband just so wanted to spend some time on a letterpress, and I had just acquired a Kelsey platen press.  A trade was proposed, and Shawn designed the whole thing with wings in mind, something that would also resemble lungs and breathing and the lift of freedom at the end of Sharon Olds‘ oft-studied “I Go Back to May 1937.” The poem is there, on my arm, in its entirety.  Olds is my most beloved living poet, and this poem speaks to me with my own work–taking life experiences and professing:  “Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.”  Olds once said that poetry comes out of her lungs, and now I have this reminder, this collection of gorgeous language, that tells me again and again:  don’t forget to breathe, don’t forget who you are.

You can view Molly’s Flickr set for more pictures of the tattoo’s progress.

The tattoo was done by Shawn Hebrank of Identity Tattoo in Maplewood, Minnesota.

I Go Back to May 1937

by Sharon Olds:

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,

I see my father strolling out

under the ochre sandstone arch, the

red tiles glinting like bent

plates of blood behind his head, I

see my mother with a few light books at her hip

standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the

wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its

sword-tips black in the May air,

they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,

they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are

innocent, they would never hurt anybody.

I want to go up to them and say Stop,

don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman,

he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things

you cannot imagine you would ever do,

you are going to do bad things to children,

you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,

you are going to want to die. I want to go

up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,

her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,

her pitiful beautiful untouched body,

his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,

his pitiful beautiful untouched body,

but I don’t do it. I want to live. I

take them up like the male and female

paper dolls and bang them together

at the hips like chips of flint as if to

strike sparks from them, I say

Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

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