copyright © 2005 by Adam Hahn

The Merchant of Venice, Act I - JUST KIDDING!
For Hillary, I Am a Tattooist of Children
by Adam Hahn

Helpful props include a candle, a lighter, a pen to break open, a pin to sterilize, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and other books.

Lights Down, to be performed in candlelight

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

I didn't write that. I found it in the miniseries of The Stand by Stephen King. It was written by T.S. Eliot, who turns out to be some kind of important poet guy.

I am not a poet myself. Hillary is the poet. You should read her work--she's in the graduate workshop, and she's brilliant.

I don't compose poetry, but I do write it--on people. I am a tattooist. I specialize in tattooing poetry on children. Today I'm doing "The Hollow Men" down the leg of ten-year-old girl.

My niece has Rudyard Kipling's "If" on her neck. She's four.

The crossing guard at the elementary school down the street has Walt Whitman on his forearms.

There are twin girls next door with Emily Dickenson on their shins.

"Elegy is a Country Church Yard" by George Starbuck is the widest concrete poem ever published. I spread it across five obese third-graders.

A little league team:
Written on nine left-hand palms,
Japanese haiku.

You're probably wondering if this is legal. I don't think it is, but I don't really know.

I am completely self-taught as a tattooist. I didn't even know that "tattooist" was a word until last week. I was at the tattoo parlor while Hillary got the coloring finished on her parakeet--I've gotten braver about getting close to her--and the guy at the counter used it. That was the first time I'd ever heard the word for what I am. "Tattooist"

In the beginning, I made a lot of mistakes, like I didn't use enough ink, or I messed up the spelling and had to scratch out what I'd written. I try to think of these as learning experiences. One night, I had this plan to put Shakespearian love sonnets on the face, neck, and shoulders of a little miss pre-teen beauty pageant winner, but I had the wrong page and I started giving her act three of Othello. I was two scenes in before I realized my mistake. I had to make big, black Xs over all of it and start over. I learned that night that when I drug the children--I call them my sleepy little canvasses--I shouldn't use too strong a dose steadying my own nerves.

Hillary deserves credit for inspiring all of this. She changed my life the first time I saw her. She was on the stage in that dirty little bar, whispering into a microphone. She was reading something about a barn and her childhood(?), and she used this imagery: blood and fire, love and fistfights. I didn't understand all of it, but her words were powerful. She was powerful. And beautiful.

That's when I started following her. I don't like the word "stalking". It's not as if I'm not hunting her--I would never hurt Hillary--I'm trying to understand her.

That's how this project of mine got started. I was on the third level of the parking ramp, which is the best place to watch Hillary when she's working at the daycare center--you should see her with children: she's incredible, a natural mother--and I decided there were three things in Hillary's life I needed to understand better: tattoos, children, and poetry.

This isn't just something I do so that Hillary and I will eventually have something to talk about. It started that way, but, you know what? When you hold a six year-old boy in your lap and etch something into his belly from Sylvia Plath's Ariel, when he starts to shake off the Nyquil and the Rohypnol and cries for his mother, you know that you aren't really doing this for a woman.

Now, I need to find a ten-year-old girl.

snuff candle, piece ends

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