Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Tattooed Poets Project: Sue Swartz

Today's tattooed poet, Sue Swartz, hails from Bloomington, Indiana, and offers up her forearm for all the world to see:

Photo by John Narmontas
Sue explains:
This is a 2-part tattoo story. On my 54th birthday, I had the Hebrew word for truth (emet) imprinted on my right (i.e., writing) forearm in traditional black Torah script. I wanted a useful reminder for my art; also the word contains one letter that is a stand-in for life/God and two others that spell out the word “dead”. Okay, it was a little heavy. Two years later, this past November, when I couldn’t take looking at the damn truth anymore, Dina Verplank of Voluta Tattoo in Indianapolis beautified the baldness of the lone word with a branch from the Tree of Life and a spiral/root system.
Photo by John Narmontas
 And Sue offers up this poem:


Damn. Another 3 a.m. flying dream.

This time I’m on a cement slab hurtling toward over-grown lawns
covered with large plastic pigs and spiked coat hangers.

This is not what normal people dream.

Awake, I tilt (normal, not normal) on a giant seesaw of guilt
by association and realize:

I might not really know what normal is—

My dead – crazy bastards every one – left far too many clues,
though not one legible note of navigational instruction.

Minds overtaken by spirals and whirligigs, Greek letters
and the rising price of toilet paper, they wore the warp & weave
of their affliction stoically.

Seamlessly, one might say, and with understated finesse.

Running off to Florida on a Tuesday-morning whim:
In the realm of normal.

Snapped-on pills for breakfast:
Mildly normal.

Washing, washing again, again, again. Refusing to shake
the hand of strangers:
Undeniably normal (well, yeah – you never know
who’s got what).

With garments torn & heads made bare, they bob in and out
of traffic, sit close to me in restaurants, carefully chewing
with their electrode mouths.

My dead have secrets. That much is abundantly clear.

I listen for whispers of their generous madness, find
they’ve come while I’m asleep. Bad timing is all I’ve got.

That, and fingerprints left on the towels.

No, I don’t shush them away: then I’d lose the true nature
of everything. If I don’t know what normal is, why not
claim these people as kin?

How else to name my own impurities and small derangements?

~ ~ ~

Sue Swartz is a poet, hired-gun-political writer, amateur ballroom dancer, favored grandparent, social justice activist, occasional yogini, and creator of alternative Jewish ritual. Her work has been published in Cutthroat Magazine, Lilith, 5 a.m., SmartishPace, and elsewhere. She wishes she had a book you could buy. You can find her blog Awkward Offerings at She makes her home in Bloomington, Indiana and believes that Leviticus (You are not to make gashes in your flesh for the dead nor incise marks on yourself.) goes a bit overboard.

Thanks to Sue for sharing her truthful tattoo with us here on Tattoosday! 

This entry is ©2011 Tattoosday. The poem is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

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