The Literal and Poetic Truth of Stars and Elbow Tattoos

Two truths exist at all times, two realities.

There’s a literal truth to everything, those concrete details; how it looks, what it’s made of, how much it weighs. Then there’s a poetic truth to it, the more intangible observations; what it means, what it makes us feel.

The literal truth of flowers is this: they are plants. Roots, stems, and leaves are the things that make up a flower. Water travels up the roots and through the stem. The petals and the leaves, something about photosynthesis.. I’m not a botanist, so… that’s all I’ve got.
But the poetic truth about flowers is more far-reaching and varied. Flowers stand for infinitely more beautiful ideas than pollination.
On really seeing the beauty immediately around us and recognizing simple, every day wonders, flowers are the touch point — “Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.” Jeremy Bentham.
On the overall health of Mother Earth, flowers symbolize happiness — “The earth laughs in flowers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
On the idea of reincarnation or of nature being a living entity all its own — “Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.” Gerard de Nerval.
So really, flowers are much more than a collection of delicate petals and earthy smells.
In fact, anything can mean more than it’s physical properties.
Coffee can be more than a drink, Doctor Who can be more than a TV show, balloons don’t have to be rubber sacks filled with air; they can be a metaphor for happiness or travel or for letting go.
The poetic truth of love is that it’s all candle-lit dinners, finishing each other’s sentences, and holding hands while falling asleep. Love is a dream, it’s a romcom. The literal truth of love is all that, maybesometimes. But mostly it’s compromising over what to have for dinner and what to watch before bed. Arguing over who drives better (always the woman) *Cue laughter from all the men. It’s getting annoyed and just letting it go because it’s love and it’s not a big deal anyway, whatever it was that annoyed you in the first place.
My favorite contrast between a literal and a poetic truth is that given by the stars.
Literally: balls of gas out there in the universe hanging out at an immense distance from us here on the planet.
Poetically: they stand for heaven itself, the afterlife, a bear, a hunter, lost loved ones looking down, wishes, a map to guide us, fate written out above us.
I have a tattoo of stars, the big dipper, to remind me of the idea of poetic truths. All situations have more than one side. Every item and every being is usually more than we can notice at first glace. We all deserves further study and consideration.
I have a star tattoo on my elbow because of the below:
“And Death Shall Have no Dominion” by Dylan Thomas.
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
I chose to get the big dipper inked on me because I also wanted “stars at elbow.” The big dipper doesn’t mean anything specific to me, I only wanted a recognizable star pattern and not to have a tattoo that looked like nothing more than a freckle.
When I read this section, I think of the peacefulness that death could bring. I’m not looking forward to dying and ceasing to be. But the quiet and calm that these few lines give me, make me not so terrified of dying. And I am terrified of dying! I was that child who cried all the time thinking about dying. About how little I understood what that actually meant. I still freak out sometimes. I don’t know what it will be like, what it means. Not really. There is still comfort in it though, if the poetic truth shines through.
The poetic truth of stars for me, is that they look like Christmas lights. Like the little bright, twinkling lights that I love so much and have fuzzy, happy feelings towards. I imagine me, dead, suspended in the sky surrounded by this type of light. It is silent. It is peaceful. It is dark, but also intensely bright around me somewhere else, in tiny pockets. I imagine it’s windy too, but a gentle wind, kind of like right above the ocean. If you walk out into the waves and lay on your back — that up and down motion of waves that’s so slight, there’s no foam, no breaking. Just lulling, rolling, up and down. Imagine that — the beach.
Now make it dark.
Now make it silent.
Now surround it with stars. And be at peace.
Death is concrete. We all die and at that point, we no longer have a consciousness. That, I can not imagine. Even when I try to think of absolutely nothing, try to clear my mind completely, I’m still trying so hard, that I think of something. Death is a thing, a literal truth, but it’s a thing I can’t imagine completely with what I’ve got. I do not have the vocabulary to comprehend it or mimic the experience in order to prepare for it. When the mind can not grasp the literal truth of something, it must settle on a poetic truth that brings some kind of peace. Death being stars at my elbow is my peace. This looming, unavoidable truth that I can not comprehend is terrifying. But, it could also not be. There’s poetry even there, at the end. A poetic truth that is peaceful and comforting. And death may not, will probably not, really be me and the stars just chilling up there, but it’s a nice thought all the same. Elbow_Tat

4 thoughts on “The Literal and Poetic Truth of Stars and Elbow Tattoos

  1. Love you rationale behind your tattoos. They are obviously very meaningful pieces of who you are, not just “something to get.” I personally have 7 tattoos. All of which have a deep seeded meaning behind me getting them. Love reading you blog. Keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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