There is a boy who is an Ozark urban legend. He is the son of a well-respected poet, and as teenage angst and rebellion would have it, he eschewed the stanzas and verses of his father. Instead, he distilled life into a single, fully capitalized word. On occasion, he’d point to his neck where his life-word had been permanently tattooed, outlined by dancing flames—FUN. Some called him sweet or kind, others called him awkward–he with the curly hair that frizzled outward everywhere. His friends called him by his tattoo, and no matter where he went, good times seemed to follow.
I once heard that FUN attended a martial arts demonstration on the front lawn of the University of Arkansas. As the martial artists began their most serious dances, the twirling and spinning of their bo staffs and nun chucks, he picked two long sticks off the ground and began his own tutorial—a tortured, floundering, mimickry. It is said that the performance was so absurd, that even the experts broke down in laughter, pulled him into their inner circles and cheered him on, chanting “Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun!”
It is true that some enjoy a simple tattoo—a fraternity symbol, an inspirational quote, the occasional half-naked pinup girl riding a bomb—but there are others, like FUN, who prefer something more demonstrative, something more metaphorical.
Amber is a poem waiting to happen. When we met, she looked always to the metaphors around her. She was a nature watcher, an observer who lived in the anticipation of each new unfolding. Aside from the screech of a bald eagle, Amber treasured the spring peonies above all else. She was enthralled by the tightly wound bulbs of early spring, the way they broke into pink brilliance, and when she stopped to smell her most-favorite flower, she’d often internalize it by exploring each and every contour of both flower and setting. She’d note the translucent pink and blue petals, the jagged-edged leaves. She’d listen to the cardinal call overhead, and might remark how she tasted the lilac fragrance falling from the overhanging canopy.
“This peony is all things beautiful to me,” she’d say.
It should have been no surprise, then, that when she visited the tattoo artist for the first time, she chose the peony as her subject matter. She sat in the chair for hours on end, winced as the artist applied the reds, greens, and yellows. She may have smelled the opening flower as the tattoo artist filled in the flaming petals. She might have felt the prickle of the leaves. She may have considered the blooming of flower on her skin.
If you ask Amber to share the metaphors behind her peony tattoo, she’ll offer a wry smile and say that it’s not yet time to unfurl all of the metaphors. If you’re lucky though, she’ll turn her shoulder in your direction and offer a good view of her artist’s handiwork. You’ll see it then, how the tattoo fits the woman, how it says more than “FUN” ever could.
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