Slow-Cooked Sentences

My pen and ink

Rachael Conlin Levy

The tattoo is on my right wrist. It’s a sturdy cufflink that runs over a rope of nerves and two parallel bones, the radius and the ulna. The pain that was anticipated, even welcomed when needle punctured the top layer of skin and injected ink into the second, stable layer left me woozy.

Still, I didn’t turn away as the pen drew a wave that would crash against the bones in my wrist for a lifetime. Instead I watched and remembered another watery pain found in lakes of snowmelt so icy its touch burned and left me breathless. I didn’t claw to the surface of the pain, but allowed it to encircle my wrist like algae and pull me under where I swam until my wrist ached and my arm was stiff.

Later, I took off the bandage to look at the black lines against swollen and pink skin, and, in the days following, watched a scab form, fall off, and expose flesh as smooth and shiny as fish scales.

Time faded the black to denim blue, and I considered embellishing the tattoo, but couldn’t afford the extravagance with toddlers underfoot and a husband in grad school.

Like the tattoo, I found motherhood a pleasurable pain that left a satisfying mark. In my home, knee-level graffiti ran the length of walls, and small fingers traced the permanent bracelet at my wrist. When my babies handed me pens and asked for watches and whiskers and waves, I drew over milky skin and blue veins, more ink writing yet another story.

Inspired by Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them, curated by Wendy McNaughton and Isaac Fitzgerald.

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5 responses to “My pen and ink”

  1. Rachael says:

    Thank you, Andrea.

  2. Bill says:

    Great Rachael, stories are so valuable, Gratzie

  3. Just the thought of the tattoo process makes me woozy, but this is beautiful.

  4. Beth says:

    A fear of needles kept me from getting the epidural with all four of our sons. Although my husband would love to see a tattoo on my upper arm, I continue to resist.

    I love the algae bit and your submission to the pain. Such a vivid and beautiful piece, Rachael.

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