By Bonnie Nadzam:
When she told the tattoo artist where she wanted it, he sat her down, pulled up a chair, and leaned in close. The alphabet was written across his chest like a talisman. She could read it through the open collar of his shirt.
“Listen,” he said. “Are you sure? That would really be permanent. And it’d hurt. A lot.”
“You listen,” she took him by the front of his shirt. “If I don’t have his name printed on my body, I’m going to die.”
“What about your arm? Your hip bone?”
“I’ve made up my mind.”
“What about the bottom of your foot?”
She sat down and unbuttoned her shirt. “Do it,” she said.
So he tied her ankles and wrists to the chair, opened up his pocketknife, and sliced a wet red line from the hollow of her throat to the smooth white plate of her sternum. Her body arched and she inhaled sharply.
“You’re open,” he said. “I’m going to use my tattoo gun to separate your ribs, okay? Just a little pressure,” he said. She felt her bones crack apart from the middle, then a long pause.
“What?” she asked. “What is it.”
“His name is already there.”
“I knew it,” she said. “Put it on again. Make sure you capitalize his first and last names.”
“You want it on there twice?”
“Yes. And don’t rush. I want to be able to picture it there very clearly. Be really careful with the vowels.”
So he bent over her and went to work with his needle and ink, carefully tracing each letter in fine and even print until it was stamped across her heart, twice. Like a question posed and confirmed. Like two quick punches to the chest. Like a stutter—a name she could scarcely utter out loud if she dared. So perfect a name that—as with all the beautiful things she’d seen in her short life: soft brown birds flying in cursive loops against a paper blue sky, a hundred thousand black ants crossing the blank sidewalk in a spill of broken words—it was compelled to repeat itself, to write itself in typescript again and again across the wet muscle of her heart, the word thoroughly inextricable from the flesh.
YOU TELL YOURSELF A STORY
One cold beer.
Arches of my socked feet pushed
Against your hip bones.
Bonnie Nadzam has published fiction in The Kenyon Review, Story Quarterly, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Callaloo, The Mississippi Review, and several others. Her first novel, “Lamb,” is forthcoming from The Other Press. Bonnie lives in a stone house on Melville Island with her beloved and their three horses, four pigs, one mule, six goats, twelve hens, and two German Shepherds. They farm primarily turnips and alfalfa in the short growing season.
Editor’s Note: I am a sucker for poetry that hits you “Like two quick punches to the chest.” Especially when that poetry is about love, and within that qualifier, particularly when that love poetry is about sex. Is there anything older, any instance where, to paraphrase Ms. Nadzam, the word is more thoroughly inextricable from the flesh?
Whether exploring this human connection through prose or through a poem quick and sharp as an incision, Ms. Nadzam is a spot on artist of the heart. A poet unafraid to paint us a picture of the inner workings of the female mind. Reading her poetry is a bit of a guilty pleasure, as if it were a forbidden magazine read behind my parents’ backs.
(“Tattoo” and “You Tell Yourself a Story” were originally published in The Loudest Voice Anthology, vol. 1 and in The Offending Adam. These poems are reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)