To My Parents About The Tattoo Meaning You’ll Never Understand

The summer after my senior year of high school I got the lines of a poem that resonated with me tattooed on my back. They are from "On Beauty" by Ralph Waldo Emerson and read "The frailest leaf, the mossy bark / The acorn's cup, the raindrop's arc/ The swinging spider's silver line/ The ruby of the drop of wine." I had read the poem while studying for the AP Literature test and loved the sound and rhythm and meaning of these particular lines. I kept going back to them, and they were to me like Shakespeare to Frank McCourt; he writes in Angela's Ashes that reading Shakespeare like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words."

Against tattoos overall, of course, my parents didn't approve when I told them my intentions of getting a tattoo even before they knew what it was going to be. When my mom asked, "What is it you're going to get branded on your back?" (Exact words), she scoffed upon reading it and said, "What deep meaning does this have?" The only people who have tattoos in my family are my aunt and cousin who have matching Trees of Life in memory of my grandma who passed away about 10 years ago. These tattoos are acceptable — they are imbued with this deep meaning my mom was trying to glean from my tattoo. My relatives' tattoos are beautiful, but their significance shouldn't undermine mine to the extent that my parents cannot fathom its purpose or personal significance.

I'm an English major with double minors in creative and professional writing so, surprise, I like literature. There are two things I find my home, peace, and solace in — literature and nature. This scrap of poetry acknowledges both in a beautiful and concise way.

Also, I believe we all carry art around with us. This can range from a song melody that's stuck in your head and that you always turn up on the radio or pondering the words of a host on a lifestyle podcast. These bits and pieces of songs, movies, paintings, and poems we carry around with us in the back of our heads or at night before we go to sleep enrich our lives. I consider my tattoo as a way to express openly a piece of art that I have carried around with me and adore.

Themes and aspects of pieces of literature change over time and under observation. Maybe upon the second reading or listening of something you catch a glimpse of or glean a meaning that you previously glazed over. Some meanings changed based on your perspective — my Shakespeare professor told us of how her reading of King Lear changed radically when she read it again 20-ish years after reading it in college. I understand and appreciate different aspects of this poem every time I read it, whether it's appreciating how everything works to contribute to life's beauty or how focusing on the small details in life can re-center you.

From my experience with them, if I told all of this to my parents it would fall on deaf ears and I would receive nothing but disdain. When asked about the deep meaning of this poem I simply said, "It has meaning to me." I think as a society we are moving more towards accepting the widening range of motivations and purposes of tattoos, that it's acceptable just to say "I got a tattoo of [blank] just because I like [blank]. Or just because I wanted to." But maybe this has always been acceptable, just not in the eyes of a few.

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