The Nature of Sin


It was in the line at the market yesterday.
The checkout girl asked me about the pears
on my left arm. Surprised for a second,
because in Manhattan I am rarely asked
to surface out of invisibility, I came stuttering.
“Augustine.” As though it were
an invocation. “His first sin was stealing a pear.”
I explained, “Out of desire. Not because
he was hungry or in need
of fruit.” Her face was so still and confused:
her teeth interrupted somewhere.
I laughed.

Often, I laugh when I have nothing to say.
And I flashed my tattoo one more time
leaving. Maybe she laughed too. And
if that is true then perhaps it is also the case
that we were laughing out of understanding
the same strange discomfort.

To tell the truth I did not know that story
until two years after I had paid $80 for the taupe pears
and their stems next to my body, a bluer green
than the one in the drawing. The stippling
of blood underneath it was pink and convincing
but soon healed off. This was in Ann Arbor. I was eighteen—

No, nineteen, but eighteen when I remember it.
We had walked all day, my friend and I, speaking
to body artists as though we were litigators. We forced
them to draw sample sketches of produce
that we criticized and then refused. And kept walking.
Maybe selectivity is forgivable in context
of the permanence we sought after. Though too

I am sure that we had little sense
of time that wasn’t ours to spend
stuck with ink, pins or whatever was used
to penetrate skin, illustrate, alter it.
She got a beet. We liked the way these renderings
of produce looked. Their line detail. We were excited
to uncover them when they healed. I thought also:
embarrassing but true, of a girl I used to watch
use the elliptical machine at college
and her arm moving back and forth with colored vines
wrapping around it. How she managed to look complicated
even though she was going nowhere. But how to explain that?
We are born out of desire. Not need or reason.
Not hunger.

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