Maybe the small blue spiral behind his earlobe is a corkscrew into his skull, there to remind him that all life is suffering, even the good parts, the absence of which at times makes his heart sag, soaked in want. Maybe he got used to the pain after that. Or maybe it’s the slow wind up the mountain to Big Bear, the spooled line from the fishing trips he never went on with his grandfather because he was too young when he died. Or maybe his Middle Eastern students finally convinced him to smoke hookah and it was so good that he wanted to commemorate the revelation he had while staring at the cobra statue in the corner, curled in dance as if on the kaleidoscopic streets of Morocco. He’d almost gotten purple ink, in honor of Cheshire cat rings, but the tattoo artist talked him out of it; he was okay with that—the rings on which Alice slid down into the rabbit hole were smoke-colored anyway. Perhaps he got it because some part of him wanted others to ask about it. He remembered his mom worrying out loud one afternoon that he would become like her—lonely from preferring the inside of his own head. She even wished she’d been born into another culture, one where a child couldn’t run ten feet without smacking into someone who loved him. He remembered this while waiting in line during his lunch hour, the woman next to him wearing a scarf—the color of sunset—layered generously around her neck.
Shannon Phillips is the founding editor of Picture Show Press. Her most recent chapbook, Body Parts, was published by dancing girl press in 2017. After teaching ESL for 3 years, she decided to study Arabic and hopes to one day work in the field of translation.