By Matana Roberts
The first time I saw a palm tattoo I was 16; it was on an older lady Brit punk, covered in some of the most beautiful tattoos I'd ever seen, complete with a gorgeous faded heart and dagger palm. She was intimidating to say the least, but somehow I mustered up the courage to ask about it. "Never do this love," she said with quite the experienced grin, "I only did this because I hated him." I could hear her distinctive lilt in my head, years later, as I table lay, with a favorite soft blanket, to do exactly what she told me not to...
I'd always felt a decorated palm belonged on someone who earned it; always appreciated it's gem rarity. When I started jonesing for one, talked myself out of it a trillion times partly because I felt I was not deserving and partly because it seemed like a serious dumb leap of faith. I had talked to plenty of tattooed compatriots, browsed magazines, blogs, videos; watched an actual tattooer jump off a table screaming; the latter convincing me it was most definitely a bad move, but also, I kept running into folk who said, "Well, if you do it: Thomas(!) Hooper (!)" Fast forward to a curious coincidence of rare scheduling events, mostly in thanks to Thomas's hard core, ever impressive, work,work,work (even) harder mentality, and there I was on his table...nervous as hell, I might add.
Beforehand, I again went back to asking around, reading about it, thinking about my initial vision of that lady punk, remembering a palm of one of my favorite tattooers done by another favorite tattooer, and finally, as if a message from the gods, remembering the inherent toughness of the ovary laden; as after all, if I really wanted to, I could, push a fully formed human out of a space that seemed a wee bit small for the occasion, you know? and that's what finally pushed me heart first, head last on towards my last bit of inspiration: mom memories.
Mom, 52, died of a lady's cancer. [Get your annuals awesome women of the world!] It was epic and unforgiving. Took her left arm/hand before all was said and done. True to character, she acted unshaken; spoke with bubbling excitement at learning how to do old things "new." What she didn't know: that particular hand of hers, was my favorite; had a scar on it from a midwestern tomboy childhood. When I was but a wee one, in a crowd, it was hard to crank my head all the way up to see. Being able to instantly spot that hand was like spotting the holy grail. Raised catholic, she became a radical activist, for a while espousing her upbringing, changing her name to a political moniker that translated to "rose." So though I already had a mom memorial tattoo; had staunchly decided that was enough, lest I be covered in my own grief, it seemed rather fitting, for my courage skill-set, to have this image be related in part to her. Post surgery, at home, she would often walk around with a small blanket shrouding her shoulders for warmth in order to battle phantom pain. I brought that blanket with me to Saved, along with some good tunes.
Saved is one of my favorite shops, not only because of the talented hard working artist roster, but also because of their ever impressive and eclectic music playlist! I am always hearing something there that I want to hear more of later....but I knew I'd need to channel in my own personal sound heroes for focus. So as we got started, in my ear cans were later years of John Coltrane and earlier years of Lydia Lunch.
Said blanket became handy face mask, thank god...and let me tell you, there was high comedy going on under there! Thomas was so positive which helped tremendously, and then almost like magic, we were done and I was shocked, because I had not shed a single tear, nor jumped off the table screaming bloody murder. I felt a calm sense of joy in my own "do now, ask questions later" innards, that continues to get me in sooooooooo much trouble, but yet manages to still teach me sooooooooo much...The post pain was almost unbearable: some of the healing days gnarly and suspicious, but now, it's almost, I dare say, "blooming!" (Thanks, Thomas Hooper!).
For the record, I'm not sure I really deserve a palm tattoo, but I'm beyond honored to rock one. And I can still hear the lovely lilt of that punk's voice, but now with my very own superimposed, imagining what I might say to a younger enquirer in my hopefully experienced years to come "Never do this love. I only did it because I loved her."
Postscript: The rose represents some other things I adore: a song,a cause,a film,a press. And that's just the short list....a rose: it seems to endure...all I hope for really.
Matana (mah-tah-nah) Roberts is a musician, former zine writer, and artist who lives in New York (f*cking) City. She has been getting marked and poked since the illustrious 90s from worldwide points near and far....
Pre-orders have begun for her next recording release of experimental sounds. Details here.