Friday, April 3, 2015

The Tattooed Poets Project: Sarah A. Chavez

Our next tattooed poet is Sarah A. Chavez:

Here's a closer look at Sarah's tattoo:

Here's the story behind this turtle:
"This tattoo was done at Iron Brush Tattoo in Lincoln, Nebraska by Nate Deal, two days after I successfully defended my poetry dissertation at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The design has multifaceted meaning.
The words, 'Everywhere I go I carry home on my back,' are an adaptation of a quotation from my favorite Chicana poet/activist, Gloria Anzaldúa. In her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, she writes with blunt, yet graceful clarity about the emotional difficulty women of color, women of mixed ethnic/racial backgrounds, and queer women face. In the specific chapter the quotation 'I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry home on my back' appears, she is referring to the fact that no matter where she moves or how much education she acquires taking her farther away from the experiences of her family, she carries her Mexican (American) culture with her always – new environments cannot erase our history; ethnic culture is a quintessential part of her, familiar, and a protection, like a turtle’s shell.
Reading this book helped me be able to articulate the pain and anxieties I had regarding my own socioeconomic position (working class kid in 'the academy'), my belonging to Mexican and American cultures (Mexican dad, white mom), and my multifaceted feelings about gender, sexuality and identification. Reading Anzaldúa’s experiences and her advocation that people should embrace all aspects of our history and personality, even when they may seem contradictory, or go against what the dominant culture tries to push us toward, provided me the strength to keep pursuing this degree that no one else in my family has earned, in a state I had never lived in before (I moved from CA to the Midwest), and to know more clearly what it was that I wanted/needed to write about.
The fact that I've always loved turtles, made having that image from the quotation a given. What I added (and Nate did an amazing job capturing!) is the book that is lying open over the turtle’s back. The turtle symbolizes conceptions of culture and self, yes, but the book represents my ability to find 'home' in literature and writing. Even when I have felt the most scared, the most alone, and the most frustrated, I've been able to write and read my way into understanding and acceptance, both of myself and others. Poetry in particular is 'home' that I am able to carry with me. Getting to see this image and those words every day reminds me it is not despite my background that I've been able to work hard to make my dream of talking about and writing poetry a reality, but because I learned to embrace it.
Lastly, something else that made this experience so amazing was that even though I only brought him a very crude drawing and an explanation of what I imagined in my mind, Nate was able to sketch out exactly what I wanted. Particularly in the turtle’s face. I think I said something like, 'not too cute, but not too lizardy or snake-like, and not mean but not cartoonish.' His talent and intuition as an artist and genuine compassion and interest in other people’s experiences helped him see into my ridiculous description to what I really wanted. I wouldn't hesitate to go back to him for my next tattoo."
Nate Deal is now at Black Anchor Tattoo in Cambridge, Maryland. Nate's Instagram is here.

Sarah sent us this poem, as well, which was originally published in Blood Lotus Issue#19, and is part of my full length manuscript, Hands That Break & Scar.

When She Asked Was I Afraid of Needles

I looked down at my hand, then straight ahead,
raised my eyebrows high and said, Hell no.

At recess, we cracked the plastic case of the pen
against the metal bracing of the jungle gym

and buried it in the sand below where classmates
planted marbles, rubber balls, love notes.

With a pocket knife I’d hidden in my shoe, Erin cut
the tube of ink at a diagonal. I blocked her

from the teachers standing near the swing set
by the monkey bars, where they leaned against

the kickball wall and drank coffee, pretending
to watch out for injury or mischief. She pulled the lighter

from her school-issued pants pocket and showed me
how she had stitched the needle along the inside seam

of her polo.My brother told me we won’t get infection
if we sterilize it, she said, and guided the tiny flame,

letting it lick the needle up and down until it was too
hot to hold. I’d seen her brother in my neighborhood,

tattoos covering his body like small paintings,
the edges raised like Braille if you closed

your eyes and touched. Once he was nice, gave me
a ride home in his white, lowered El Camino.

That day I didn't have to run past the apartments
where the men would leer and grab

their dicks through their pants and yell,
Come here, baby, I’ve got something for you.

In his car, I felt strong and safe sitting up
in the leather seats, so the neighborhood people

could see me through the window
above the clean, shining door.

I’ll go first, I said, spreading my thumb
and pointer finger to flatten the web

of my hand. Now, we’ll be hermanas, she said
and kissed me on the cheek before dragging

the needle across my outstretched skin,
starting the“1” of the number thirteen.

~ ~ ~

Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the chapbook, All Day, Talking (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), which was featured on Sundress Publications' book spotlight, The Wardrobe's Best Dressed. She holds a PhD in English with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Stirring: A Literary Collective, Spoon River Poetry Review, Luna Luna Magazine, among others. Her manuscript, This, Like So Much, was an Honorable Mention for the 2013 Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Contest. A selection from her chapbook manuscript All Day, Talking won the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship in 2013. She is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop. Visit her at

Thanks to Sarah for sharing her literary turtle tattoo with us here on Tattoosday's Tattooed Poets Project!

This entry is ©2015 Tattoosday. The poem and tattoo are reprinted with the poet's permission.

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