It may be that we are the mockingbirds of the universe. No bee studies to imitate the bower bird and build postmodern hives of sticks and debris,
no bear hibernates in a tree on a platform of bent branches, exploring the experience of gorillas, no walking or crawling creature spends its life desperate to build wings; no other creature here sees a meteor streak across space and thinks— I could do that. Or watches army ants destroy everything in their path and forms ranks.
Or maybe we are this small locus of the universe watching itself, thinking itself through.
Why else would some of us study ancient stone bones our whole lives, arguing passionately over how they ran, what kind of mothers they were, how anything that size had sex,
much less the frozen moons of far distant planets where nothing will ever buy or sell us anything;
why else the Sistine Chapel, or Guernica, why else poems, why else prayers, why else words at all?
That here in the deepest water, beyond even rags of light, nearly transparent creatures glitter and flash like neon signs floating down the Las Vegas strip;
That as recently as seven years ago liquid water flowed down an arroyo on Mars, shifting sands and turning small rocks, a pattern like a palm print on a rusting door;
That on a cold night water vapor makes visible the breath of small children, who laugh to see themselves breathe,
and makes visible the broken breath of old men forgetting their children in refugee camps, and the drying breath of prisoners in stone cells, whose mothers and sisters believe they’re long dead;
That in the beginning the Spirit moved over the waters like a mighty wind; that the spirit moves through water even now, even now through the straw held to a sick man’s lips, blessed from basin to scallop shell to the forehead of a crying child; That we are from conception almost entirely water.
Are these Christian tattooists in the paper any stranger—Simon Stylites spent a life standing on a stone pillar, sixty feet up— did not come down for cramps or winter rain.
Could I survive the Sacred Heart with “Hail, Mary, Full of Grace” across my arm, or the crucifixion in three colors against my sternum between my breasts. Needles to skin over soft tissue is less painful, but flesh is grass and sags— art lasts best close to bone.
No stranger than hair shirts, hundreds of needles for hours, for days, even years, to get the complete St. Michael on my shoulder to the writhing, twisting dragon down my leg. Or my whole life to get the Last Supper with Stations of the Cross, and the proper text— Jesus’ words in red— covering every inch of skin, eyelids, lips, nose, between fingers and toes, while invisible capillaries under the skin carry the images molecule by molecule into the living catacombs of bone.