The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you. — from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"
I read an excerpt from Whitman's poem at Anthony's memorial service. My friend Sean read it at Isaiah's. And on Thursday, I went in to memorialize it, not just in my heart and head but on my flesh — the spotted hawk.
My tattoo depicts a Cooper's hawk, to be precise, although I'm not sure what spotted hawk Whitman refers to. I've seen a Cooper's hawk here, since we moved to Oakland. It did not swoop by and accuse me - not exactly; it was a juvenile, just sitting in a tree. And I was neither gabbing nor loitering; I was walking briskly around Lake Merritt as Kin, Poppy, and I do daily. But its spots were stunning, and I thought of the poem — and of course, I thought of Isaiah — when I saw it.
The tattoo took about five hours to complete, designed and inked by the incredibly talented Hannah Wolf. I love that, unlike the bird that I saw at the lake, the one on my leg is in motion, staring at you with its talon clenched. That ferocity, that life - oh, Isaiah Isaiah Isaiah. And I love the way the pin feathers encircle my thigh - the marks you can't see when you look at me, but that are still there, wrapped around me.
The hawk pairs nicely with the pigeon on my other leg, I think. When I got that tattoo, I was still writing the book. And I'd thought that when I finished it, I'd get another bird tattoo to match that camera-wielding bird. Little did I imagine it would be a memorial tattoo for my child.
There is something incredibly cathartic about the blood-letting of a tattoo. I almost cried during Thursday's session — not from the pain although yes, of course it hurt — when Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" came on the radio: "If you're lost you can look and you will find me." (Akin to "Missing me one place search another.") I knew that if I let more than just a tear or two out of my eyes that I'd dissolve completely. So I kept it together, and today the bandage came off. I'm healing nicely, thanks for asking. One can always hope one comes out stronger, more beautiful on the other side of trauma.