Helen's Reminder for One Wild and Precious Life

Earlier this year, I spotted a new tattoo on my friend Helen's Facebook feed. She was kind enough to share it with us:

The phrase "one wild and precious life" are the final five words in Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day":

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.
All rights reserved
Poetry speaks to everyone differently, so I asked Helen why she chose to inscribe these words on her body. She replied:
"I really wanted to remind myself – to have a permanent reminder readily in view – to be present, to be grateful, to be living in the moment. These are things that I regularly do anyway, but I’ve ended up in a number of quite challenging circumstances recently and was VERY depressed and really losing perspective...and it just came to me one afternoon that having this on me, in that type of font, right in the place where my pulse is taken, would be the perfect thing. Also, I had it done right before the Spring Equinox – I wanted to start new, like spring, like growth, like hope, like guess what everything comes back around and it’s all there even when you can’t see it, like seeds buried beneath the snow and the frozen ground... everything is not dead, there’s still hope, and time is fleeting and you better effing rise up and live again."
The font used is Courier and the words were inked by Berger (@tattooingbyberger) at Artful Dodger Tattoo and Comics (@adtcseattle) in Seattle.

You can hear Mary Oliver read in the recording below:

Thanks to Helen for sharing her awesome literary tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

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