Tattoos and the Inevitability of Letters and Bodies

David Tomas Martinez

Oct 13, 2010

My name, David Tomas Martinez, is the Mexican equivalent of John Smith, and like many of my friends, I played sports growing up. In my neighborhood, running the football got dances with the prettiest girls, and being able to fight was an apotrope to black eyes. On Euclid Avenue in Southeast San Diego, wrenches had more value than books. They did visible jobs. But reading, held intrinsic value for me, and though sports fulfilled me privately as well, during the machinery of a good workout, I was equally as elated working mentally as physically. Sports were always an intense exorcism, a tool of anger. But reading inoculated love.

One glorious afternoon, my mother's Monte Carlo returned home as it always did around sunset. I can still smell the stiff fabric when it returned from Tijuana freshly upholstered in midnight blue matching the flake-metallic paint job, but this afternoon the Monte Carlo descended with a trunk full of books donated by all the doctors and nurses in her office.

Happiness is hard-covered and exotically colored. So in my youth, I was transfixed by Christopher Columbus' heroically red hair, enthralled that the great Teddy Roosevelt was a Rough Rider, who kindled the Spanish American War by yelling, "Remember the Maine." These real American heroes made every word revelatory. And though I separated the physical from the mental in my youth, I now work with letters in a much more physical manner.

I am a poet, so I push words. I teach composition, so I undig students' ideas. I am an assistant poetry editor at Gulf Coast, so I traffic cop other people's work. All these physically mental actions can be symbolized most appropriately by my tattoos. I have five tattoos: arms, my whole back, a chest piece, and neckpiece. So many tattoos that sometimes old women stare, or ask if I have any skin sans ink. I reply, "They are birth marks." The inevitable nature of words, the necessity to express oneself in a world devoid of provable meaning, physically manifested on my body, artificially no doubt, but manifested nonetheless.

There is nothing else I could be but a poet that works words with his body because I come from people that work with their bodies. If I washed dishes, I would see meaning in the suds. If I went to work with a blower on my back, the leaves and grass would be the flag of my disposition. But I don't. And I have not forgotten the education I was given by others' bodies of work, or the tattoo of a woman with her teased hair and Aztec nose that was green and thickening on my uncle's forearm as he untwisted the cap on his soda.