Dave Legnosky’s tattoos-in-progress

We met Dave in Black Rock City last August. Dave came to a party at Kentucky Fried Camp, a party that began with the public launch of Love Letter To the World, moved on to hoop skirts and top hats, and ended some place in the Nevada desert.

Two months later, he wrote to us asking if he could get an entire stanza of “Love Letta to de Worl’” as a single design. Six months later, he sent us this story:

“I’m addicted to ink, love the process, the art, the pain. The pain is temporary, like life; there are worse addictions, and this is mine. It all started with a tattoo of a dancing frog dressed like a leprechaun. Why? I don’t know … partly because I am half-Irish and partly because it was just that I wanted a tattoo. I didn’t really know what I wanted, I walked into a shop like a kid in a candy store, and I wanted them all. I now know that I settled for that frog; it didn’t really have any special meaning—it was just a tattoo.

Fast-forward a few years—ok, a lot of years—and I am standing in another tattoo shop, like so many times before, this time in Hawaii, looking, dreaming of that next tattoo, something meaningful this time. I didn’t know what I wanted as I wandered those Technicolor walls, dreamily staring at the art. There it was, a sun and moon. The design caught my eye and reminded me of desire, the moon gently kissing the sun, of love and being loved.  A few hours later it was mine and this time it meant something to me.

Wind the clock ahead again, life has drastically changed for me, feeling lost, I found myself sitting in a tattoo parlor, once again staring at those walls, waiting for my appointment. I knew what I wanted this time: stars, nautical stars (my son calls them Nor Cal stars). I wanted them on my shoulders to remind me to follow the stars where they take me, to be happy. Situated to the left and right of the sun and moon are stars, always my reminder.

A few more years and I am lying face down on a table, getting that next piece of ink. A full-back piece, a huge Raven that goes from my waist to a point just below the sun, moon, and stars. Why a raven? The Vikings believed ravens were Odin’s eyes and ears. In Tlingit culture there is a creator raven, responsible for bringing light into the world, and a childish raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry. And I just love ravens—watching them, listening to them, they amuse me to no end.

And more ink, this time it’s bittersweet, I am having the dancing frog covered up with a grandfather clock overlaid with the melting hands of another clock. Beautiful in form, the clock hands pointing at the time I was born, the colors shining like ornaments on a tree. On the face of the clock, a sun, moon, and, of course, stars.

The latest ink is three new pieces that mean a lot to me. More than the others do? No, different, it’s more personal this time, deep-down-in-the-soul personal.

It’s actually six parts from the ‘Love Letta to de Worl’’ poem by Frank X Walker, combined. The poem left me awestruck; I must of read those words a hundred times, those sincere, loving, and apologetic words. Wishing things would have been different, an apology for the way we have behaved, and a hope that it’s not too late. That Gaia will only tolerate so much.

I asked if I could get the whole poem as one piece and was gently reminded that it would take up a lot of space, more space than I had available. So I had to choose smaller pieces, it was not easy, I spent hours looking it over, and kept coming back to just 6 phrases: ‘When we invent,’ ‘poisons and no antidotes,’ ‘and build,’ ‘monuments to ourselves,’ ‘we can’t pass the course,’ and  ‘on humanity’—all parts of two different stanzas.

Most people choose one phrase, one part of a stanza, a snippet. I chose these six parts for so many reasons—for my aunt and my grandmother who died of cancer in the same house I was raised in. For the medicines I shrugged off in search of a better way, a healthier, natural way. As a reminder to take care of myself, to love and be loved, to be happy, and, most importantly, to remember how everything is connected.

I asked to have those six pieces blended together and formed into three separate pieces, pieces that mean so much more to me together than they do separately. Blended, ‘When we invent-and build,’  ‘poisons and no antidotes—monuments to ourselves,’ ‘we can’t pass the course—on humanity.’ Blended, but still part of the whole. I am still working on completing them and will do that as soon as I get back to California to see my favorite tattoo guys at Premier Tattoo in Oakland. Will there be more ink? Of course, there will be, I’m addicted. Something as meaningful? Maybe, but I doubt it.”

Dave Legnosky

Dave Legnosky’s first two LLTW phrases “When we invent” and “poisons and no antidotes” (image courtesy of Dave Legnosky)

Dave Legnosky

Dave Legnosky’s “poisons and no antidotes” (image courtesy of Dave Legnosky)

“We took the opportunity to follow our hearts”

These words were sent to us by Erin Howard, on behalf of the incredible community of people who came together to translate “Love Letta to de Worl'” in Spanish.

“We are all like little worlds / Somos todos como munditos.

Yes, the world is a vast, gorgeous, and powerful place that expands beyond the limitations of our experiences and the confines of the human-made borders within which we live; yet, each of us occupies a “world” that is made rich by community, loved ones, and specific places that we long for when we are away and that we celebrate when we return. Valuing the natural world is made much more purpose-filled when we value the humanity that fills our own little worlds / munditos.

When the opportunity presented itself to translate “Love Letta to de Worl’” in Spanish, we embraced the task in community. No one in our group is a professional translator, but having grown up bilingually, we knew that the only true way to translate a love letter to the world would be to include as many voices from the Spanish-speaking world as possible.

Spanish is the official language of 21 countries and is spoken world-wide by over 500 million people. Choosing the “right” words, honoring the poem’s original meaning, and carefully considering the current realities facing the diverse and expansive Spanish-speaking community were tasks that our group felt inadequate to complete perfectly.  So, the poem was read, translated, edited, and then edited again and again by Spanish speakers from different educational backgrounds, immigrant experiences, and countries of origin, including Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the United States.

The core group that keep track of the edits and the discussion of the poem’s meanings included Genoveva Segura, Mizari Suarez Gallo, Laura Bohorquez, Gaby Baca, and Erin Howard. The process was a metaphor for how we view the world—alive, fluid, contentious, contradictory, beautiful, powerful, destructive, and abundant.

We debated for a long time about which word to use in the last lines. The word “migrante” or migrant evokes a powerful image of the many people in the world who, despite being extremely connected to their land, have to immigrate, migrate, or move for survival, for sustenance, and for work. It also calls up the image of migrant workers who pick our food and break their backs for long hours under the sun in order to feed the world, but who are almost entirely invisible. It connects back to the indigenous peoples and communities all over the Americas and the world whose relationship with the natural world is based on respect for its power, provision, and beauty. We all recalled an important Mayan concept of “In lak’ech,” in which I value you because “tu eres mi otro yo / you are the other me.”

However, it was not lost on us that Latin American and Spanish-speaking communities are not immune to racism. Latin American countries like the United States have their own complicated histories with racism and systematic discrimination against racial and ethnic groups. To eliminate or replace “negro” (Spanish word for “black”) would be reckless. And so we took the opportunity to follow our hearts by using two powerful phrases. We who love the world black know just as we who love the world migrant know that anything we do to you we also do to ourselves because  tu eres mi otro yo.

We are thankful for this opportunity.”

-click here to listen to the poem in Spanish-

Joshua Allen

Joshua Allen’s “Y sin embargo” (image courtesy of Joshua Allen)

Josh Maag-Brown’s “centered”

Below are the words sent to us by Josh Maag-Brown, who also participated in the Boulder Tattoo Project. Thanks for joining our global community, Josh!

“Hi guys! So here’s a pic of my LLTW tat. It was done by Sam Parker in Boulder, CO at Chelsea & Vinney’s place, Claw & Talon Tattoo.

The phrase I’ve chosen is quite meaningful to me because getting ‘centered’ has been something I’ve been trying to accomplish for as long as I can remember. Of course, even trying to define what it means to be ‘centered’ is a continuously moving target; approaching ‘center’ in one area of a person’s life is no indication of how well a person might be doing getting ‘centered’ in other areas. For example, I might be doing better at getting ‘centered’ on my skis as I’m descending that double-black diamond ski run and still have no balance in other areas of my life—work, family, community. ‘about centering’ is a tribute to the effort and a reminder to never give up the pursuit of balance.

Peace & Love to all my global community members. We’re all global citizens first, in my view, and need to be and working toward getting ‘centered’ in the way we treat this amazing little world we’ve been handed!

Josh Maag-Brown
Louisville, CO”

Josh Maag-Brown

Josh Maag-Brown’s “about centering” (image courtesy of Josh Maag-Brown)