Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 2nd 2021(Our 150th Session in English!)

29 participants joined for our 150th VGS session in English. This was the first session for five people and the second for five more. It is always wonderful to have our core group and new participants mix! After reviewing the technical aspects of participating via Zoom and our shared values of confidentiality and approaching texts with narrative humility, we listened to two readers voice poet laureate (2013) Ted Kooser’s “Tattoo,” posted below. 

We were immediately struck by the lines “where vanity once punched him hard” and “the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt rolled up to show who he was” – prompting us to think about the ways we present ourselves. In the case of the man described by the narrator: Who was he andwho is he now? What may have changed internally as well as externally? What has stayed the same? We considered the man’s choice of T-shirt and the gesture attributed to him–that of rolling his shirt sleeve and exposing the daggered heart–before going to the yard sale. A man still expressing himself in the theatre of the body. “Life has happened,” offered one participant, who noted not only the “bony shoulder” but also the “shuddering heart” calling our attention to aging and to the housing of fears now or then. 

We had fun imagining various narrative viewpoints. Was the narrator a young man observing an older man while denying that his body would age and grow softer like the man he observed? Or was the narrator a woman drawn to the description of a one-time “stallion” wearing his tight T-shirt with bravado? Was the observer another older man who had known, or not known, the man in younger days? And what were the author’s, the narrator’s, and our own identifications with//projections onto the character portrayed?  

After writing 4 minutes to the prompt “Draw or describe the shoulder tattoo” we heard 3 writers read aloud.

The first combined a physical/clinical description of a physically “depleted” human heart  with a verso to the heart as a holder of emotion and its metaphorical demise from “the excesses” of too many tears. One person was reminded of “The Chart” by Dr. Rafael Campo–to which the writer signaled that Campo’s work had served as inspiration for tonight’s prompted writing.

We listened to another piece, which began with a reference to a “glow” of iodine painted on the skin before surgery and an imposed and lasting “bruising.” Participants were quick to hear the echoing of this writing with “The Tattoo” and to see in our minds’ eye the image of marks created with words. 

The third piece began with an image of the tattoo “dancing” and “flexing” on the shoulder and concluded with impressions of the man’s spirit very much alive. 

These shared writings, like the text by Kooser, elicited many thoughts and responses, which were shared both orally and via the chat. These included attention to tattoos as forms of “what our skin tells” and how tattoos, at one time were “markers of gender and class” and now are much more prevalent. The color “blue” evoked the possible use of the word to convey physical “heart failure” and de-oxygenation of blood and/or “a failed heart.” One comment suggested that we are “human billboards” and asked if the “daggered heart” represents not a warning or a murder but lost love.

Near the end of another session-that, in a way, are endless sessions of meaningful exchanges-a participant dropped into the chat, “Are we bodies that have souls or souls that have bodies?”

Thank you everyone for all your Monday evening contributions and for your contributions here in the narrative blog.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Friday August 6th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

Tattoo by Ted Kooser

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

from Delights & Shadows, 
Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004

5 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 2nd 2021(Our 150th Session in English!)

  1. Ella

    Blurred but not faded, the aqua navy as assertively stained as it was the day the surrounding skin was left pink and tender. Then, it looked imprinted, pressed on. Now, it seems as inevitable as the sun spots and keratoses, the slow-healing scratches and loose skin leaving room for biceps and deltoids that no longer face the daily strain of new tests of strength.


  2. I’ve seen barbed wire circles around surprisingly muscled female biceps.
    I’ve seen represented ivy, roses, and growing things that crawl up an arm in a sleeve tattoo.
    But in this old man’s shoulder tat, I see a small, distant memory of who he was.
    Could it be a dagger dripped in blood?
    Or perhaps an anchor, reflecting a past decision in the moment of choice.
    Regardless of the symbol, it was possibly who he might have been proud to be – at one time.
    When a patient has such a marking on their skin,
    It’s a living memory
    Of the life they once lived and who they used to be.


  3. Describe the shoulder tattoo~~~

    It danced on the shoulder of this muscular, young man.
    Taut and vibrant in color.
    Flexing, bold, and beautiful.
    A sign of bravado and masculinity.
    This vibrant heart with a dagger piercing it warned all comers–BEWARE– I don’t take anyone’s garbage!

    But time does not stand still, all things move on, change.
    The tattoo has faded in color as the years have passed by, as the young man has transformed into old age
    It just hangs now on his bony shoulder, a reminder of the youth he once had.

    The heart has aged, has softened as the tattoo on his shoulder with the passage of time.
    His muscular strength has diminished but I can still see him flexing his biceps when he thinks no one is looking.,

    A man who is still strong in spirit.
    Isn’t that the most important point?
    Maybe he still is a man you don’t want to mess with!


  4. al3793

    The mark on his shoulder was inscribed
    at a time when he wanted to attract attention.
    A pound of red flesh pierced by a dripping dagger.
    A true work of art.
    Full flesh in motion as if
    grabbing the steel sliver that stabbed it
    as if to say I will deal with you later.
    He’d wear his sleeve rolled up
    making the image obvious to all
    projecting vitality for life.
    The tattoo is less livid now,
    and the man less vital,
    but the spirit of the man is
    more pensive and wiser and
    embraces life each day
    as it might be his last.


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