My Tattoo Story: Heather

Heather, New York City

I loved this line from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman as soon as I read it in a Romantic Literature class in college. I carried it around in my pocket for ages, thinking how it captured my whole life philosophy so well in just a few words. (The whole line is Do I contradict myself? Very well. I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.) And I had the idea to tattoo it onto my forearm. But the aesthetics never quite came through for me, because choosing a font was impossible. I knew whatever I chose I’d end up hating in a year or two. I was talking with a good friend about it, and he said, “Why not get it in Walt Whitman’s handwriting?” And it was the aha moment I’d been waiting for. I scanned the internet looking for the right manuscript pages. Turns out they didn’t exist, but I was able to cobble the words together from a few separate sources. (If you look closely, you can see that “multitudes” changes style in the middle…it gets messier at the end, because it came from two entirely different words from different poems written years apart.) The artist was Michelle Tarantelli at Saved Tattoo in Willliamsburg. I admired the nuance she was able to get in her black and white art, and knew she’d be able to capture the feeling of a fountain pen.


Poem of the Week, by Margaret Mackinnon

The Invented Child
– Margaret Mackinnon
(I spring from the pages into your arms.)

Someone who once knew him said
Walt Whitman sang before breakfast
behind his bedroom door—
broken arias, bits of patriotic tunes,
the way my child sings this morning
in early spring, the way
the raucous mockingbirds fill the warming air
with their own borrowed songs.
The world is once again its hopeful green.
Bold forsythia bursts its spindly stalks.
The young trees again flicker on the slopes,
and when he ended his days on dusty
Mickle Street, Whitman must have remembered
mornings like this—
Nights, no longer really sleeping, confined
to the paralytic chair, say he remembered
that earlier, softer air, the light on the water
in that clearing he had called Timber Creek,
the idea of it—
Say he thought again of those days
when he was still fat & red & tanned,
when he’d strip off his clothes
and roll his great flesh in the pond’s black marl.

In the close, bug-ridden room in Camden,
he spoke, sometimes, of a grandson,
fine boy, a Southern child who sometimes wrote,
once stopped by—
No one ever saw him.
An old poet. His invented child.
Though why shouldn’t a man
who’d always lived in words create something
to endure his sore, soiled world?
There is at Timber Creek, Whitman wrote about the trees
their rough bark, the massive limbs and trunks
as if they were the bodies of those he’d loved.
Some people believe the souls of unborn children
rest in trees. Say he saw them, then,
caught their soft breath
sweet as the spice bush, lush as the early crocus.
In the long, hard work of his imagination,
say he watched their disembodied hearts
sway among the new leaves,
watched the eager light shine on another fine morning
until the sky lifted above him
like exultant, fresh desire—
and the children descended,
and then the crowns of the trees were all on fire.


– For more information on Margaret Mackinnon, please click here: