I am trying to get as honest as I can

When I started my tattoo magical resurrection spell, I set out to write my own Mutus Liber on my body, with 15 “plates” (as in the original book) depicting the alchemical operation taking place. Mutus Liber is an alchemical text. The name means silent book.

I am not ready to get into too many specifics, but I had read a Mormon theological text by Adam S. Miller that led me to believe I needed certain symbols of Zion (aka Salt Lake City) on my body for the spell to work, along with specific ink chemicals, chosen for their alchemical properties but also for the specific damage they inflict inside the body and their relationship to pollutants in SLC. I needed to resurrect this place, most especially the graffiti that saved my life when I was in the depths of despair after first moving here.

Gate to a parking lot with a sign that reads, faintly, "The Other Place." It is spray painted with the word OXEN. Sidewalk grate with the word OXEN written in white. Crosswalk pole with a postal service sticker that reads Will you be my Valentine? Oxen Fence to a government property. OXEN is spray painted on the sign and underlined twice. Crosswalk button with OXEN painted on it.

OXEN carved into a sidewalk when the cement was wet. I call this one "permanent oxen" since it cannot be washed off. There are autumn leaves atop it.

I call this graffiti artist Mr. OXEN, and until recently, he was mostly an abstraction. The day I walked into the tattoo shop with the top photo (above), however, he transformed into a real person.

“Do you know him?” said the guy at the counter.

“No,” I said. “I’m just obsessed with his work. I’ve been photographing it for years.”

“Come here and look at this,” the guy said, turning to the artists.

“No way,” they said when they gathered around and saw the image I had brought in.

One of them took me to a corner where the shop displayed some calligraphy by Oxen.

I couldn’t tell what they thought of my project, and I didn’t explain it, but I knew I had found the right place.

Over time, I came to suspect that my artist himself might be OXEN, but there is no way to know for sure, and I will not ask him. I wanted to believe it was him. If I was trying to resurrect this place, how perfect to have the graffiti artist write on me in his own hand, as if I were a crosswalk pole.

I also wanted GURRL and HEMA:

Graffiti tag that reads GURRL with a broken heart above it. All in lipstick red. A pair of cateye glasses atop a pole that reads GURRL

A crosswalk button sign with a sticker that says HEMA. A little halo floats over it.

Eventually, I wanted the Walker Center weather tower, transmitter and receiver of all that is magic:

Iron tower atop a building. It reads WALKER going down and CENTER repeats around the base.

But then, everything changed. It became clear, through some tacit agreement, that the graffiti was never happening. I don’t know if it offended Oxen, or if he saw it as copying. Maybe if he knew the whole story, he would change his mind, but I have a sense–and I am very intuitive about these things–that he would not. He conveniently forgot the OXEN images I had already given him whenever we discussed the next tattoo.

And all of a sudden, no more new OXEN tags appeared downtown. I wondered if he had given up the tag because I had taken it too far.

So I let it go.

I just let it go.

And as I did so, something magical happened: I started to let go of this city, too.

I took a walk downtown to watch falcons one day, and a man approached to ask the time, pointing to my Doomsday Clock tattoo.

My wrist tattoo: the Doomsday clock at 3 minutes to midnight. The time is written in Deseret Alphabet.

“End of the world o’clock,” I said. And this intense peace fell over me. I felt I could walk right out of the city and never look back, like I didn’t need it anymore.

I completed several other tattoos, mostly alchemical symbols, and I never again asked for graffiti or architecture from this place.

The final alchemical symbol was the peacock. Here is where things get interesting. That tattoo got infected. I don’t know how, because my shop is extremely clean, and I was taking good care of it. It’s just one of those things. I started antibiotics, and it has healed significantly. For awhile, it looked like it might not turn out as beautiful as the others, but as the tattoo emerges from scabs and layers of skin, it looks good. I think it will be fine. The body has amazing capacity for healing.

How interesting that this tattoo got infected, though: symbol of turning inward on the alchemical journey, but also of alchemical mistakes. Perhaps I had looked inward to the wrong things. Perhaps I had lost my way on this journey.

Life is in chaos right now, with job losses and other things, so I cannot afford my entire tattoo spell. However, I have one last tattoo with a hefty pre-paid deposit already down on it. I was going to get a grasshopper next, but with the upheaval, I changed it to what would have been the final tattoo in the 15, anyway:

I am trying to get as honest as I can -- written in Deseret Alphabet.

It says, “I am trying to get as honest as I can,” in Deseret Alphabet, a quote from my brother’s taped phone call with his final victim:

I am trying to get as honest as I can.

I feel at peace with it. I believe the peacock was right.

In my Deseret Alphabet translation, I made the choice to use a more ‘archaic’ form for the first sound of honest. That letter that looks like a lightning bolt? Technically, it represents a sound I have never pronounced, ever. Only someone from Britain or the Northeast would even begin to comprehend how to pronounce it properly. For my Midwestern mouth, it’s impossible. However, it is another way to write “honest,” and I have always loved how the little lightning bolt looks.

And that it is a sound neither my brother nor I could pronounce? For honest, of all words? Perfect.

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