reads the tattooed calf of a womanI’ve just met, or rather countryin a classic book font, she points out,noting “size and placement” were up to her.I figure about an inch tall, two incheslong, a devotion of her love for countrymusic, maybe, or for the country that isher body, a nation-state of one,its capital centered on a muscle,gleaming from a hill. But it turns outshe had to apply for her countryas part of a story—with 2,094other tattooed words—writtenby a New York author who insistson contracts and waivers,on assigning her words to strangersbut not being liable for anyhealth/job/relationship problemscaused by the ink. “And there’s nosecond chance if you turndown the word she offers you,”the woman adds. “I was hopingto get some punctuation with mine.”I wonder about country; country!country … about who’d be willingto proclaim massive, meager, [End Page 368] even something like mediocreacross their back. Or anywhere.Just one caveat—“no body-partnames allowed on the matchingbody part”—heart needingto be taken on the chin? She’s lucky,it seems, to be flaunting the freedomof country rather than whatevermight precede it in the story—sleepy, backward, wild—although she’s not allowed to tell meanything about the tale, if countryis farmland in Vermont, the islandsof Samoa, another planet.“You have to prove your word,mail a close-up of your tattooin order to get the entire story,”each word/person sworn to secrecy—“but the author likes for us to gettogether.” What word would I wantto meet every day in the mirror? Curiousmaybe, but not odd or plain old lost,and there’s a hazy comfort to lingering,if it could be spread on skinthat never wrinkles. “Whenevera word of hers dies, the author hopesto be at the funeral”—her story bound,of course, to fade, losing its edgeor pulse or fever, leaving a dreamto somehow matter on. I don’t askwhat will happen at the author’s funeral, [End Page 369] how far her words might travel, how longthey’ll stay, sitting there in their rows,people noticing how art can’t helpleaning on desire, how timeovershadows all. What to dobut smile at her young faceas she says, “The ink was worththe cost, the pain. I mean,totally”—as if to convince me. [End Page 370]
christine rhein’s first collection, Wild Flight, won the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry from Texas Tech University Press. Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Additionally, they have been selected for Poetry Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best New Poets. A former automotive engineer, she lives in Brighton, Michigan.