Two final poems by Wythe Marschall.
I’m fascinated by tattooing, in part because of its status as a quasi-medical procedure. Tattooists give detailed instructions regarding the care of recently inked skin. Both tattooing and surgery involve preoperative consultations and postoperative follow-ups. Both involve specialized instruments including devices that penetrate the skin. In some ways, tattooing is the aesthetic parody of surgery (elective plastic surgery aside).
Meanwhile, cephalopods such as octopi can change their skin coloration and texture in seconds. Their camouflage parodies the long and careful work of the surgeon or tattooist.
I could perhaps, with intense effort, capture this web of thoughts in a cycle of sonnets. For now, my double-sonnet on tattooing and the image of George Motta’s work on my body will have to serve as my synthesis of several syzygies—body and art, art and medicine, permanence and transience, concern for the future and inability to exit the mores of the present.
…An octopus uses its sophisticated skin… to produce a range of patterns, often described as uniform, mottled, and disruptive, to achieve deceptive and general resemblance…
We rarely invite pain into the body.
When we do, it’s through the skin.
I once knew a young woman
who begged to be scratched bloody.
She arched her back: “In another
life, I was a cat,” she said. My brothers
meanwhile race across freezing mud
and finish breathless with studs
of rock stuck deep in their heels.
I wince. My beloved pain
is ink, a vampire I invite to remain
forever. I do not fear the squeal
of the needle’s motor, only that one day
I will less proudly brandish the gray
octopus whose tentacles proffer
the artichoke crowning my arm
with butler-like aplomb. Is this harm
unavoidable? Do we empty our coffers
only to plan what we’ll resent—
to plant traps in our future flesh?
in the ocean of the present,
are tattooists “transmuting verdure
into onyx?” What if I endure
my octopus’s caress for years
only to find she has grown ugly or, fear-
of-fears, boring? Sleeve up, I squint
into her eyes for any spectral hint.
 Josef, Noam, Piero Amodio, Graziano Fiorito, and Nadav Shashar. “Camouflaging in a Complex Environment—Octopuses Use Specific Features of Their Surroundings for Background Matching.” PLoS ONE 7, no. 5 (2012): e37579. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037579.