I’d used every excuse I could think of to not dig a needle into my skin. After doing it, it turns out I was right to be afraid. I’m addicted and planning my next tattoo.
Almost ten years ago, I read a little novel called The Savage Detectives by a Roberto Bolaño. It was the fourth book I’d read by him – my university had By Night in Chile and Distant Star close enough to Borges for me to notice; Last Evenings on Earth the first I’d buy myself. I stowed away the hardcover when it came in Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia, reading it at my leisure before it felt like anyone could ever have.
For posterity’s sake, I want to produce the conversation between Amadeo Salvatierra, Belano and Ulises about the last surviving poem of Cesárea Tinajero:
“What do you see?
A straight line, I said. What else is there to see, boys? And what does a straight line suggest to you, Amadeo? The horizon, I said. The edge of a table, I said. Peace, said one of them. Yes, peace, calm. All right, then: a horizon and calmness. Now let’s look at the second part of the poem:
“What do you see, Amadeo? A wavy line, I suppose, what else is there to see? Good, Amadeo, they said, now you see a wavy line. Before, you saw a straight line that made you think of calmness and now you see a wavy line. Does it still suggest calmness to you? I guess not, I said, suddenly seeing what they were getting at, what they wanted me to see. What does the wavy line suggest to you? Hills on the horizon? The sea, waves? Could be, could be. A premonition that the calm will be broken? Movement, change? Hills on the horizon, I said. Maybe waves. Now let’s look at the third part of the poem:
We have a jagged line, Amadeo, which might be many things. Shark’s teeth, boys? Mountains on the horizon? The western Sierra Madre? Lots of things, really. And then one of them said: when I was little, I couldn’t have been more than six, I would dream about these three lines, the straight line, the wavy line, and the jagged line. I don’t know why, but back then I slept under the stairs, or at least in a very low-ceilinged room next to the stairs. It might not have been my house, maybe we were only there for a little while, maybe it was my grandparents’ house. And each night, after I’d gone to sleep, the straight line would appear. So far so good. The dream was even pleasant. But little by little the scene would start to change and the straight line would become a wavy line. Then I would start to feel sick and get hotter and hotter and lose my sense of things, my sense of stability, and all I wanted was to go back to the straight line. And yet, nine times out of ten, after the wavy line would come the jagged line, and at that point the best way to describe how I felt was as if I were being torn apart, not from the outside but from the inside, a tearing that began in the belly but that I soon felt in my head and my throat too, and the only way I could escape the pain was by waking up, although waking up wasn’t exactly easy. Isn’t that strange? I said. Yes, they said, it is strange. It really is strange, I said. Sometimes I would wet my bed, said one of them. Dear, dear, I said. Do you understand now? they said. Well, to be honest, I don’t, boys, I said. The poem is a joke, they said, it’s easy to see, Amadeo, look: add a sail to each of the rectangles, like this:
What do we have now? A boat? I said. Exactly, Amadeo, a boat. And hidden behind the title, Sión, we have the word navigation. And that’s all, Amadeo, it’s as simple as that, nothing else to it, said the boys and I would have liked to say that they had taken a weight off my mind, that’s what I would have liked to say, or that Sión could also be a front for Simón, a word from the past meaning yes in street slang, but the only thing I did was say well, well, and reach for the bottle of tequila and pour myself a glass, another one. That was all there was left of Cesárea, I thought, a boat on a calm sea, a boat on a choppy sea, and a boat in a storm. For a moment, I can tell you, my head was like a stormy sea and I couldn’t hear what the boys were saying, although I did catch some phrases, some stray words, the predictable ones, I suppose: Quetzalcoatl’s ship, the nighttime fever of some boy or girl, Captain Ahab’s encephalogram or the whale’s, the surface of the sea that for sharks is the enormous mouth of hell, the ship without a sail that might also be a coffin, the paradox of the rectangle, the rectangle of consciousness, Einstein’s impossible rectangle (in a universe where rectangles are unthinkable), a page by Alfonso Reyes, the desolation of poetry. And then, after I’d drunk my tequila, I filled my cup again and filled theirs, and I said that we should drink to Cesárea, and I saw their eyes, those damn boys were so happy, and the three of us raised our glasses as our little ship was tossed by the gale.”
A few weeks ago (I know I’m behind) I got this tattoo that’s been rattling in my brain since junior year of college.
It’s everything above. It’s everything I can’t pretend to explain. It’s mostly a signifier of the waters that I’ve tread (and still tread) and how I wish I could add a fourth line to my sailboat.
I’m inspired again. I haven’t blogged recently because I’ve been planning (or dismantling the fatty nothing parts of my life) to write a novel within the next 13 months. In that time, I’ll get a half dozen new tattoos (I’m already planning the next one) and I’ll probably fall in and out of love a couple times. I’ll feel high and low but for the rest of my life, I’ll look down at my wrist as it plays guitar, as it masturbates, as it reaches out to hold another’s hand, as it raises it’s arm in a fist, and think that my work is only just beginning.
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