When Ecstasy is Inconvenient

April 10, 2010

I’m planning on getting a tattoo in August or September. The tattoo will be two lines from my favorite poem, Lorine Niedecker’s “When Ecstasy Is Inconvenient.”

Heart, be still/say there is money but it rusted.

This is design 1. It will go on my chest, right above my heart, to scale.

Heart, be still.
Say there is money but it rusted;
say the time of moon is not right for escape.
It’s the color in the lower sky
too broadly suffused,
or the wind in my tie.

Know amazedly how
often one takes his madness
into his own hands
and keeps it.

I aim to get that entire poem tattooed over my heart. However, there’s not enough room so just that first snippet will do as any part of that poem reminds me of its meaning.


Ecstasy is inconvenient most of the time. Ecstasy, being so private and personal, excludes those around the ecstatic. Ecstasy provokes envy, unhappiness and a general sense of disregard. Say you’ve been promoted at work the week you’re about to meet your lover after a long spell. Say you’re happy, ecstatically so. Say you understand that those around you aren’t that lucky. Know that you cannot tell them, cannot impose your ecstasy on them, for they will consider you cruel. After all, it is your promotion, your lover. Say you want to shout this out from the rooftops, weave through traffic screaming and break into a dance in the middle of 6th street. Say nothing can stop you. But you don’t.

So you say you only possess rusted coins, that you’re not about to escape your small life, no, you’re happy where you are, the time isn’t right, you have to get up to go to work in the morning, that like in the Daniel Johnston song, “red is strong but blue is pure” and look, you have on your favorite blue tie. Don’t rock the boat.

Finally, the poem arrives at the conclusion that you either live a lifetime holding that madness inside you or you abandon all pretense and live without fear. What does it mean to keep madness though? The way I see it, there are two ways of reading madness here. a) denial of ecstasy is madness and we’re forced to live, pretending that what we have is not treasure, only rust or b) even after decrying the time of moon (lunacy), one cannot help but escape anyway. This escape is madness but it’s also freedom.

The tattoo will remind me that I must always remember that, like for the resting gull, it doesn’t matter if it’s the end or the beginning of my journey so long as I can still transport myself in ecstasy, in love. I forget sometimes how difficult love is and in forgetting, devalue the ecstasy it makes me feel. Is there anything more beautiful and tender that being contentedly awake in love with a beautiful girl asleep on your chest, and to know that despite it all, you can transport each other?

This is design 2. This was the first one I came up with. I meant to sketch a heart but I ended up making it look like the owl from Clash of the Titans. I probably won’t use this one. We’ll see how I feel by late-summer.

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