The year leading up to my 30th birthday almost killed me, quite literally. The stress from my living situation at the time was pushing me to the edge of my sanity. I was living in a place I didn’t want to be in because I had gotten priced out of the place I’d shared with my ex. My mental health was in flames. The increased tension on my body brought heightened levels of pain due to fibromyalgia and I couldn’t sleep.
Do you remember what we did on our birthday that year? You would have been turning 49 and it was my 30th. The last year of your 40s and the first of my 30s.
This era of my existence was heavily soundtracked by Robyn, Gotye, Joanna Newsom and your own Biophilia, Vespertine, Medulla, and Vulnicura. You were a big part of things then, my then-still-favourite
In an effort to provide a self-witness to my arrival at 30, despite all the forces working towards the contrary, I made a plan to get new ink on my birthday. I had been thinking about getting knuckle tatts for a while. Not sure what words to land on, I eventually decided on lyrics from “Who Is It?,” “Carry my joy on the left. Carry my pain on the right.” I got the letters “p a i n” across my right lower knuckles and “j o y” across the left in fuchsia cursive.
A year and a half later, after learning of your history of artistically interpreted racism and renouncing myself of your presence in the name of respecting my Black life, I sat with the tattoo artist again. I had spent the last 12 months with the lyrics of a white woman comfortable throwing around the n-word and appropriating marginalized cultures emblazoned on my skin. In that time I had many moments to consider what it meant to carry an emblem of someone who did not value my personhood. Though there were ways I could rationalize the place of the tattoos themselves as just meaningful words, I needed the ceremony and reshaping of embodied alteration. Pain on my right. That felt true regardless of its association with you, but, joy?
Joyful isn’t a characteristic I would ever use to describe myself. It was certainly not a reining element of my life as it perched on the outside edge of my twenties. Alongside the anguish, however, I somehow managed to cultivate abundant creative growth and spent more time with my grandmother than I had since childhood. Though joy wasn’t my most frequent lived experience, it was one I wanted to nurture and call into my life as echoed by your lyrics.
Pain I can trust. Pain teaches me. Pain will always be a part of my existence as a sick body and mad mind. I kept “pain” on my right, in beautiful femme script, a quiet a affrmation to lean into beauty as much as I lean on my cane for support. Pain, like poetry, is sewn into my marrow. It is how I think and the backdrop for how I view, understand, and process the world. Poetry is my first language, the conduit and keeper of the joy, pain, destruction, and delight I live within.
A pink shadow of “joy” remains under a word more attuned to my lasting truths. Now, I hold “pain” in my right and “poet” in my left.
I don’t need your words to give life to my experiences anymore, I’ve found my own.
a scorpio pain poet melannie monoceros