lenten journal: tattooed

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I have three tattoos.

The first one is the simplest: a semi-colon. It rests on the front side of my right arm. When I learned about Project Semi-Colon and the idea that depression is not the end of the sentence, I punctuated my life with there mark. The third one is on the inside of the same arm. It is the word courage in black with a teal period at the end of the word. I got it the week that our foster daughter started chemo as a statement of solidarity. She and the tattoo are both doing well.

The second one is a line from my favorite Guy Clark song–my personal national anthem–“The Cape,” which tells the story of a little boy who keeps climbing up on the garage convinced that he can fly. The chorus says,

he’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
close your eyes hold your breath and always trust your cape.

I wish I had gotten it in larger letters because they kind of run together at times, but I know what they say.

Some songs are like tattoos, the ink of the lyric drilled into your heart by the melody or the beat or the way the song found you, leaving an indelible work of art that transcends and transports.

Diane Ziegler’s “You Will Get Your Due” is one of my tattoo songs. I bought the record when it came out in 1995. I had no idea who she was or that the song even existed. I was struggling with my yet unnamed depression, finishing my MA in English so I could get my teaching certificate (while I was teaching full time) and wishing I could be a writer. My fortieth birthday was in sight, but not much seemed within reach. And she sang,

there’s a man that I don’t know well
but I’ve seen the way he cast his spell
straight across a room until the people had to listen
he was singing from a quiet place
and you could only hear the faintest trace
that he wonders if he’ll ever taste the kiss of recognition

you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
you will get your due

I want to call him friend
because I love the way he works that pen
and spinning stories seems to be his true devotion
but he says he’s gonna pack it in
because he doesn’t see it rolling in
he thinks that ship is somewhere lost out on the ocean

you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
and you will get your due

I know you want to leave it behind
but it’s all there in your mind
and you can no more stop the songs
than stop your breathing
I can’t tell you how it’s gonna end
I know the lucky ones sometimes win
but not before they’ve paid a price
for all their dreaming

you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
and you will get your due

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about wisdom offered by a friend who said we either choose our losses or we lose our choices. On a day when I set some losses in motion in hopes of creating choices, I have spent some time both looking at and listening to my tattoos, reminding myself that the story is not over, that courage is quotidian, and I will get my due. And as I think about life in these months after my sixty-fifth birthday, I’m grateful that the kid in “The Cape” grows up:

he’s old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
still climbing up on the garage and he will be till he’s dead
all these years the people said he’s acting like a kid
he did not know he could not fly and so he did

I know I haven’t given many details. Those will follow soon. For now, if you see someone on the garage, it’s just me.

Peace,
Milton

1 COMMENT

  1. I hope the losses you’ve set in motion bring you peace, Milton. And (somewhat selfishly, I suppose) that they’ll leave more space for your writing. Because truer words couldn’t be said: “I love the way he works that pen and spinning stories seems to be his true devotion.”

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