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SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Tattoo: A Memory

by Rachel Guido deVries

A tattoo of a small bird flies in the place
my breast was saved. No one
knows this secret. The tattoo is invisible.
It is the sound of wind beneath a bird’s
feathers. It is the small sound of a cat
slinking toward the bird. It is a tattoo
singing of  freedom. The cat
is not a part of it. The cat
is another tattoo on another woman’s
breast, an empty space left where the cat
went wild and tore through hope.
The bird is blue, and it stays hidden.

I could not have known then
how the clock worked, always
marching forward, minute after
relentless minute. So many heart beats,
matched to the clock’s ticks, marching
like soldiers keeping staccato time.
Forward they go, passing the blue
tattoo without seeing it.
Only the wearer of the bird remembers
the digging, making the breast less whole,
counting the clock backward
into etherized sleep.

What I am really trying to say is this:
Inside the scar’s secret is a small bird,
singing the sound of a scar, healing.

But even that could be a lie.
The truth is something I have
never understood. There is no tattoo.
There is only a bird’s blue singing
in the place my breast was saved.


—Honorable Mention, the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2017; first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2017-18 (Garden Oak Press, February 2018) and appears here with permissions from the publisher and the poet


SHJ Issue 18
Spring 2018

Rachel Guido deVries

is a feminist poet and fiction writer, whose works concern her southern Italian heritage and her lesbian identity. She is the author of nine books, including five poetry collections: A Woman Unknown in Her Bones (Bordighera Books, 2014), An Arc of Light (1978), and three published by Guernica Editions: The Brother Inside Me (2008); Gambler’s Daughter (2001), a finalist for the 2002 Paterson Poetry Prize); and How to Sing to a Dago (1996). Her novel, Tender Warriors (Firebrand Books, 1986), is still in print; and Bordighera Books published two of her four children’s books, including Teeny Tiny Tino’s Fishing Story, which won the 2008 Paterson Prize for Books for Young Children, and Stati Zitta, Josie (2014).

Her fiction has appeared in Ragazine, and her poems have been published in Yellow Silk, VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, the Paterson Literary Review, Rattle, Stone Canoe, and elsewhere. Her poetry, fiction, and essays are anthologized in several collections, including Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian Americana (Fordham University Press, 2008), Rhetorical Choices: A Reader for Writers (Penguin Academics, 2004), The Italian American Reader (William Morrow, 2003), The Milk of Almonds (The Feminist Press, 2002), Don’t Tell Mama! The Penguin Book of Italian American Writing (Penguin, 2002), and The Voices We Carry: Italian American Women Writers (Guernica, 1994), among others.

From 1978 to 1982, deVries co-directed the Women’s Writers Center in Cazenovia, New York, and directed the Feminist Women’s Writing Workshops at Wells College. In 1984, she founded the Community Writers’ Project in Syracuse, New York, and served as its director until 1995. In the 1990s, she taught creative writing at Onondaga Community College. In 2009, she was a “poet in the schools” in upstate New York and taught creative writing at Syracuse University.

Additional info at: Kidspeak: Poetry for Young People with Rachel Guido deVries.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury