I have one tattoo, which I got when I was nineteen years old. It’s on my hip, it’s hidden, and to be quite honest has been ripped apart by my two pregnancies. It took me a long time to decide what to imprint on myself and where. We don’t need to get into my tattoo or what it means or whatever, but I will tell you that the runner up was a poem by Emily Dickinson, which I wanted tattooed on my shoulder blade.
The only reason I didn’t go with the Dickinson was the placement: the shoulder was the only place it seemed right, and the shoulder was way too conspicuous for a nineteen-year-old who was so terrified to tell her parents she’d been inked that she wrote them a letter rather than telling them directly or even not telling them at all.
But you know what? I still think about getting that tattoo. Not that I ever will; tattoos hurt, they cost money, and–I don’t know. I don’t feel the burning desire to wear my heart on my sleeve that I did as a young adult. Or, in this case, my shoulder.
Anyhow, it’s not a particularly famous poem. Not one you read in English class, most likely. But I love it so much, I have it memorized. I have it cross-stitched and framed in my office, too. It goes like this:
I’m Nobody–Who are you?
Then there’s a pair of us! Don’t tell–
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be Somebody.
How public–like a frog–
To tell your name the livelong June
To an admiring bog!
You might be thinking, “Um, Laura? You’re a blogger. You’re a writer. You tell your name the livelong June, July, and August. And this is your favorite poem?”
Yeah, I know. But I imagine Ms. Dickinson, though certainly a more private person than I am, wrote this poem out of longing–I feel it in every dash (she used a lot of dashes in her poems that have often been changed in various editions to whatever the editor thought more appropriate but I love them because I can see her at her desk, resting the pen on the paper in a moment of reflection, before moving on to the next phrase), in the exclamation points, in the secretive tone.
It’s a secret we keep, Emily and I, that we’re Nobody. It’s a secret kept and treasured by every unpopular kid and weirdo, that capital N that changes the meaning entirely. It’s the kind of comfort we need, to be special and secret, to know we don’t need the admiration of the bog, and how relieved we are we don’t have to croak out a frog song.
It’s the perfect poem for the lonely teenager, which is who I was when I discovered it, and why it’s been tattooed on my inside if not my outside. It’s exactly what I would have written had I been a poetical genius like old Emily, and it comforted me. Amused me. Gave me something to crow at the top of my lungs. I’m Nobody! Who are you?