I see tattoos all the time--anyone who takes a yoga class in New York City, or Providence, or anyplace where the young are lithe, scantily clad, and cool, gets a dazzling display as limbs unfurl into down dog position. I’ve grown accustomed to the display of flowers, vines, leaves, arrows and hearts scrolling across arms, legs and backs. Even so, I was impressed with some inking I saw at the wonderful Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. That has to be one of the best bookstores in the country; I was there to be part of a radio show, called Thacker Mountain Radio, as the kick off event to publishing my new book, SLOW LOVE. Square Books is owned by Lisa and Richard Howorth, who truly love books--as well as great food, conversation, and life!
A young man had the instructions for folding paper airplanes drawn in several steps up his forearm. I kept wishing I had quizzed him about why he chose that particular sequence, instead of asking the usual dumb Mom questions about pain, or exclaiming in genuine admiration over the turquoise highlights. The tattoo left me thinking about paper airplanes, and how we learned to make them in elementary school, and sent them sailing through the air as soon as a substitute teacher turned her back. They were a kind of simple miracle of transformation--math quiz borne aloft by inquiring minds. I remember coming home from work one day, many years later, to find one son’s friends up on the second story porch of my house, shooting burning paper airplanes into the garden, laughing uproariously as the flames flickered zanily through the air. You can imagine the flames that shot out of me; I was instantly a mother dragon singeing her young.
At Square Books I also met Sara, whose tattoos were even more impressive. She volunteered to show me the ones on her sides. There, above one hip, was the beloved Peter Pan! He is one of my favorite characters, and she flexed a muscle and his sword quivered. People think of Peter Pan as a boy who won’t grow up, but that’s really only a fraction of the story. He is a boy who has lost his mother, and is forever heartbroken, yearning to find her and stymied at every turn. He is locked out of the nursery world of children beloved and nurtured by mothers.

Sara had had a William Carlos Williams poem inked down her other side--the wonderful poem about those delicious, irresistible “plums that were in the icebox…” I was touched--and heartened--that someone would love a poem enough to let it get under her skin. Who says the younger generation isn’t reading?


david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

The "younger generation" is not only reading Stevens (and, apparently, having the stuff tattooed on themselves), they're also parodying it.

For great fun, go-to & listen-to (you can do it for free) this six-minute episode of "This American Life", in which a number of young folks (and, yes, 40 increasingly seems "young" to me) perform their own variations on "This Is Just to Say" ....the plum-poem whose title no one can ever recall).

go to:


Glad to hear you've enjoyed Square Books. I know plenty of folks who would like to just give everything up and go LIVE there, given everything that goes on in the place.


David Terry

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

For someone like myself, who doesn't even have pierced ears, this is impressive. Both in individuality, and courage.

Town and Country House said...

I was in a shop the other day, and a lovely young mother came in with her two daughters, who were both wearing very traditional smocked dresses. The young mom, wearing a sleeveless blouse, had leopard spots tattooed up and down both arms! It was a bit jarring!

A mom said...

My (now 23 year old) daughter has been a bookworm forever. As much I was dismayed by her decision to go ahead with a tattoo -- which I vetoed as long as I could -- I admired her choice of a quote from her favorite book, "On The Road" by Jack Karouac. "Like a burning man" -- very discreetly inscribed on her ankle. Could be worse!

Hebrew Tattoos said...

The sheer number and variety of tattoo designs out there is amazing. It is hard to explain why the tattoo craze has grown so quickly over the past few years.

Karen Beth said...

I want a tattoo so badly, although not a whole poem down my side. Very neat though.

Love Square Books. I've had many a cup o'joe on that balcony.


david terry said...


3 days after having posted the above-comment?....

It's 6:20 am, and (for absolutely NO reason at all...I was changing the dogs' water-bowls and wasn't thinking about anything-online, or, for that matter, books of any sort) I suddenly thought "OH, that poem's by William Carlos Williams, not Stevens....".

It's always a bit un-nerving for me when my inner-skoolmarm suddenly breaks out in this way.

Resignedly yours as ever,

David Terry

pve design said...

If I were to have a tattoo, mine would be a brush or some sort of palette-
Yes, the young are reading, at least my young- I am amazed at the list-

Typo Tat said...

That origami tattoo is awesome.

It would be so cool if everyone had a different origami diagram tattooed on them. So much fun!

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