April 26, 2009
Lisa D. Chávez: “The Tattoo Artist”
The Tattoo Artist
I go to get a tattoo. A butterfly, coy flutter on an ankle. I take a little something to relax. I fear the needle, that gleaming serpent’s fang. But then I think of the tattoo artist’s arms, the way an amethyst panther prowls up one forearm, the way along the curve of his bicep a dolphin dips into a fantastic sea of starfish and seaweed, the way bright phantasm brood beneath his shirt. I call to say I’m coming. His apartment hums with heat. He smiles seriously as he lets me in; he’s naked except for a pair of shorts. And the tattoos. His body blooms with color: a tropical garden teeming with orchids and brilliant birds of paradise. A vine—riotous with scarlet flowers—snakes up one leg, glides beneath his shorts, slinks up the beach of his belly. His back fecund with fantastic beasts, a bridge between dreams and waking. A mermaid weeps indigo tears that transform into fans of diminutive fish. A Chinese dragon exhales a shower of stars. A herd of plum-colored horses, hooves sparking saffron light. Hallucinatory color, the electric glow of pigment injected beneath his skin. A palimpsest of symbols, illustrations from a trance. I would read those images like braille, my fingers, tongue traveling along the labyrinths of ink, discovering entire continents between his shoulder blades, along a thigh. I tell him what I want. He frowns, his face the only part of him unmarked, a blank banner flowting above the tumultuous images parading across his chest. Then he shrugs. “A butterfly, if you like. But it is so ordinary, so unlike you. Maybe something more . . . original?” I nod. He smiles and his teeth catch the light like pearls. A tangerine tiger shivers, tensed to leap from beneath bamboo shadows. A leaf green snake undulates on his chest. “Where?” My ankle seems an unworthy offering, too tame, too far away from those undiscovered continents of desire. I pull my T-shirt over my head, proffer one breast. And he busies himself with paper and pencil, and he rubs the pattern onto my skin. And he slips his hand under my breast, holds it reverently, as if weighing gold. My nipple hardens at his touch. Then the needle whines to life, begins its burn on my skin and I can barely hold still—it’s like an itch you can’t scratch—and the needle moves in and in and in and my bright blood eases out around it and I sink into the sea swirling and swelling on his arm. “Do you like it?” he asks, hand still cupping my breast, dabbing at the beads of blood and sweat with a cloth moist as a mouth. And I rise through his waves to see. I open my eyes and images surface like leaping fish. On my left breast, a violet flower blooms. Into its trembling depths a hummingbird—all emerald green and garnet—inserts its narrow beak, sucking the nectar from the flower’s long throat. The wings vibrate with the rise and fall of my gasped breath. The flower stems from a bottle green vine that fades into my skin. If I could only pluck that vine, follow it like a thread into the maze of patterns yet to be traced. I can almost see them, the ghostly phosphorous of tattoos waiting to be needled in, waiting for the hand of the dream master, the vision giver, the tattoo artist. “Oh, yes,” I say. “Oh, yes.” My flesh demands design.
—Lisa D. Chávez, 2001