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The Tattooed Lady

September 29, 2008
Tattooed Lady Broadside by Art Predator

Tattooed Lady Broadside by Art Predator

Looking into my computer,
my face reflects back, screened.
Lines hint of past, future.
Questions cloud my vision–
where am I going?
can I write my way out?
It blankly answers me–
Not good. Not bad. Just is.

I hear the train but sit here still.
Gathering monarchs hang
cloaking green with gold.
Adorned like Lydia
The Tattooed Lady,
I grab Groucho and dance.
Let the birds catch the flies–
I’ll stay open for you.

I wrote this poem soon after moving in to this house as a renter; I subsequently bought it. Every fall monarch butterflies gather here, and stay until spring, at times filling the air of the barranca with orange and black dancers. In April 2006, a developer cut down the eucalyptus trees which shaded the vacant lot and my home and sheltered them on cold winter nights, but I have planted two sycamore trees and there are other sycamores and eucalyptus in the neighborhood for them. They thrive on the nectar of the poinsettias and tree dahlias I tend, and lay their eggs on the milkweed here.

The ARTLIFE broadside above depicts an elaborate conceptual installation I did at the Art City Gallery soon after I wrote the poem.

From the gallery’s rafters, we hung an old trunk, and I filled it with eucalyptus leaves, 1950s party dresses, old photos and journals, the detritus of mythical traveling circus life. On a canvas, my friend the painter and fellow UCSC alumni Fred Betz painted an oil portrait of me in one of the dresses as if I was the young circus girl who would one day become the Tattooed Lady; we attached the canvas to the underside of the trunk. He also helped me conceptualize the installation.

On the floor under the hanging trunk, I placed an old mirror on top of 12 clear glass tea cups; in each was a narcissus bulb. I wrote the poem on the mirror which reflected the painting.

A small chair rested beside the trunk and mirror, and on the chair was an answering machine which played a recording of me singing the song “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” People could listen to The Tattooed Lady’s message; they could also record their own for the Tattooed Lady and perch on the edge of the chair to peer into the mirror to read the poem; this act lined the reader’s face with the poem as well as showing them the painting.

I explored a number of ways of turning this installation into the broadside, and was disappointed with all until I came up with the idea of standing on tiptoe almost in flight on the chair in a gown. I also printed a rubber stamp of the Tattooed Lady on the back of each and underlined the piece in a glittery orange paint reminiscent of the orange dust off a monarch’s wings .

Most people know the Marx Brothers film At The Circus and the scene on the train where Groucho Marx sings “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” But I wrote this poem not long after watching the scene from one of my favorite movies, The Fisher King directed by Terry Gilliam where star Robin Williams sings this song to his love interest “Lydia.”

In searching for that clip to post (which at this point I have yet to find), I found this one with Kermit singing to an onstage Lydia:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2008 6:13 am

    Amazing art poetry installation idea as usual. And then the blogpost adds another layer to the idea. Link art across time, cool.

  2. October 1, 2008 10:44 am

    These broadsides are inspirational. I love the question this poem asks about writing one’s way out.

  3. October 1, 2008 2:20 pm

    I sometimes find myself mesmerised by my computer screen. I like the the mix on your blog. Thanks for visiting mine.

  4. October 1, 2008 2:36 pm

    Thank you, Paul, Nathan, and Carole!

    Doing this installation really pushed me intellectually, thinking through the various components. And then, the blog, and how to conceptualize it on the blog, yes Paul, is another layer of complexity.

    I’m glad you find them inspirational Nathan! Have you done much integrating your art and your poetry?

    I like the mix on my blog too, Carole! I’m glad you appreciate it. Recently I revised it so people looking for poetry could find that content more easily. Many of my viewers are searching for something in particularly and I hope they discover a little poetry along the ride!

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