on the wall of the tattoo shop
i focus on a painting of a pin-up girl.
she’s undressing, working her panties down
her thighs. her head is thrown back
in a laugh. i stand a few feet away as the piercer
explains the structures of the nose—
the cartilage at the center & the soft spot
at the front where the piercing goes.
he traces the arch of her nose & comments
on the asymmetry. i flicker out of the room
& across the walls. i think of my own face
& the metal going through my septum,
my old boyfriend standing a few feet away
asking does it hurt & the brief pain
prickling through my face. later that night
i would keep telling him to stop kissing me
so that i could check the piercing,
to make sure it was still there, as if
the metal was a handle bar on some sort
of train. as if the piercing was
in the face of a bull with tags on
her ears. the chair she sits in
is different than mine. she leans her
head back. she looks off into the ceiling.
the piercer is calm. he has long hair
& leathery skin. his voice is steady.
i watch as he moves the needle swiftly.
he uses his own hands. he focuses.
as if skin were cloth. as if skin were
so easily moved through. he has old tattoos;
an indiscernible language climbing
across his fingers & arms. he slides
the surgical steal jewelry in.
i want to be like him when i grow up
i tell Rachel on the way home. i don’t
elaborate. i could just as easily said
i want a man like him to visit me
every single day & tell me what he’s
doing to do to my body. i imagine more
piercings in my face. my tongue. my cheeks.
my eye brows. my old boyfriend telling me
not to get anymore— that i look so good
without them & how that lit an anger in me.
how i wanted more metal nestled in my skin.
how i wanted to show him how easily
a needle could re-enter. how i wanted to be
a man in front of him instead of a girl
& how i wanted to wield a sharp object
so close to his face & tell him when i was ready.
i still want to learn the distinction between
pain & harm. between self-destruction &
control. the metal looks good on her & before
we leave the piercer explains how to take care
of the wounds. he suggests soaking the nose
in salt water. i think drowning.
Robin Gow is the author of Our Lady of Perpetual Degeneracy (Tolsun Books, 2020) and the chapbook Honeysuckle (Finishing Line Press 2019). They is a professor and MFA candidate at Adelphi University and they is the founder and director of the NYC queer and trans reading series Gender Reveal Party.