Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ma'at's Feather (Naomi Foyle on the Tattooed Poets Project)

Our next tattooed poet is Naomi Foyle, who shared this feather tattoo:

Naomi recounted the history of this feather:
"I acquired my tattoo in Brighton UK, back in the early nineties. I was working in a bookshop and living in a rented room at the top of a tall house above an aquarium shop owned by a Welshman with flowing white hair who let me give him Tarot card readings every month in payment for the gas bill. The room was furnished, and I liked the feather design on the bed quilt so much I decided I wanted it as my first tattoo. As a writer, I was attracted to the feather, of course, as a symbol of the pen. And as a Tarot reader, using and studying the Aleister Crowley/Frieda Harris Tarot deck, my decision was also influenced by Egyptian mythology. The Ancient Egyptians believed that when we die we meet Ma’at, the Goddess of Harmony, Truth and Justice, in the Hall of Two Truths. There she lays our hearts on a scale opposite the ‘Feather of Truth’– an ostrich plume. If the heart is lighter than or equal to the feather, the soul may continue to paradise, the Field of Reeds; but if the heart is heavier, then the terrible Ammit, with her lion’s mane, crocodile jaws and hippopotamus body, leaps up from her seat at the foot of the scales and devours it. I thought it couldn’t hurt to give my heart a constant reminder of this test ahead, and so I decided to have the feather tattooed on my left breast.
Through the local music scene I’d met tattooist and DJ Sean Cypher, well-known for
his own occult leanings, with whom I shared a mutual love of Einstűrzende Neubauten and the Crowley/Harris deck. I carefully copied out the design from the quilt and took my drawing to his home-studio. ‘I don’t do badges,’ Sean remarked, and proceeded to draw a larger version on tracing paper. I was a little nervous about this executive decision, but I also knew he was an artist, and when he applied the tracing for my approval, it was obvious he was right: there was an elegant and harmonious relationship between the curve of the tattoo and my breast. As Sean told me, his hand was steady; he therefore didn’t need to anchor the needle deeply in my flesh, and over time the ink did not spread too far into my capillaries. Nearly thirty years later, it’s just a little blurry, not a hot grey blotchy mess.
Sean is still in Brighton, and he and I are still talking about adding white ink to the
crest, to bring out the resemblance to a Japanese wave. Right now though, I’m just happy to have it just the way it is: when I had cancer three years ago I feared I would lose the whole breast. In the end I only had a lumpectomy, but if I’d had to have a mastectomy as originally planned, regardless of whether my feather survived intact and unwarped, I would have had more tattoo work done as part of the psychological healing process. As it is, Ma’at’s feather seems to have done its job: surviving the cancer that killed my mother has, so far, cured a chronic depression that has dogged me since I was a child. I’ve also become deeply involved with social justice issues over the last ten years, including protesting on the streets of Cairo against the siege of Gaza. So it’s clear to me that the ink from Ma’at’s feather quill has travelled into my bloodstream and lightened my heart.
Naomi sent us this poem, as well:

After the Biopsy

An iron pea
in a skinned pillow,

mushrooming marble
in a sack of aspic,

trespasser acorn
    sprouting in flesh –

yet, strangely, it doesn’t feel
strange to be hosting

this small numb planet,
possible death star,

this bullet caught
in a clutch of blubber

a shade from my heart.

What my fingers have found
         is the nub
of my days here on Earth ―

a dark maternal pearl

by my oyster breast.

from Adamantine (Red Hen/Pighog Press, 2019)

~ ~ ~

Naomi Foyle is a British-Canadian poet, SF novelist and essayist. Her many poetry
publications include The Night Pavilion (Waterloo Press), an Autumn 2008 PBS
Recommendation, and Adamantine (Red Hen/Pighog Press, US/UK, 2019). Also an SF
novelist, and the author of cyberchiller Seoul Survivors, and eco-SF quartet The Gaia
Chronicles, she lives in Brighton UK, and has read her work widely in the UK, North
America, Europe, South Korea and Iraq. Find her on Facebook and at www.naomifoyle.com.

Thanks to Naomi for sharing her poem, her tattoo, and its story with us here on the Tattooed Poets Project on Tattoosday!

This entry is ©2020 Tattoosday. The poem and tattoo are reprinted with the poet's permission.

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