Mariah Hamang’s “you settled here”

“I first heard about the Boulder Tattoo Project in March 2013, when the BTP was still in its infancy. Immediately, within minutes, I e-mailed Chelsea Pohl and got my name on the list to be involved. I had lived in Boulder less than a year, having moved from Chicagoland in August 2012 to start graduate school at CU (what we call the University of Colorado). At that time, I already knew how important Boulder was for me. Boulder had already become a symbol of a fresh start, of sloughing off the ruts and stale habits and old baggage we accrue when we spend too much time in our hometown. With its reliable and omnipresent but ever-changing mountainsides, its friendly nomadic street performers, and its clanking of the counterculture fighting to the surface, Boulder embodied the catharsis of a new setting, of the therapeutic different geography that we challenge ourselves with and crave, those of us who have a hard time settling.

I went to all the early BTP meet-and-greets, sustaining a borderline intolerable level of excitement from March through November 1st  when needle met skin. I read the poem for the first time the day it was released in Boulder Weekly and I was in shock! I thought: ‘Boulder Zodiac’? I’m admittedly an enormous astrology nut, and my largest tattoo is a tribute to my sun sign, Gemini. I was already 100% sympatico with the poem. But there was one phrase in particular that I clamped onto: ‘you settled here.’ It was an elegant, ideal description of my relationship with Boulder. (Yes, I am the kind of person who believes you can have a relationship with the city where you live.) I knew that if I ever ended up leaving Boulder, Boulder would always be the place where I ‘settled.’ It would always embrace me. It would always be the home that had adopted me and nourished me and put me at ease. (Have you seen how bright and clear the stars are? Or the blue shadows that striate the mountains when the sun falls behind them at sunset? ) I want to remember this place permanently, to forever have a small piece of it with me to the grave.

I decided to sponsor the Boulder Tattoo Project. Not only was I was infatuated with the phrase I chose (and sponsors got first choice), but more importantly, I myself am a poet, and I was enthralled with the intimate way that poetry would involve my body in this equally personal and collective tattoo. I’m an advocate for expressive art in every form. I have more than a few other tattoos and such, and to invest in a body modification project of this caliber and to therefore help give it more scope or significance was definitely an easy decision for me to make. I was excited to support the project and to be a part of something much larger than myself that would divide and flow but stay connected as we all split ways, after we all came together briefly in the same place to share a moment of our lives.

I chose to place the tattoo on my left chest, over my heart. I think the reason for that is self-explanatory. But it also lies a little deeper. I mentioned that I moved to Boulder for graduate school—I study linguistics. Reference and ambiguity are big themes in language studies, where I live. I was drawn to the phrase ‘you settled here’ not only for me having settled in Boulder (the obvious initial motivation), but also because of its open interpretation. It’s as if the tattoo is speaking to YOU, a family member or a new friend or an interested stranger, you who settled here on my heart, however fleetingly. And I think that’s the most essential and beautiful component of this tattoo—the meaning always changes, depending on who’s looking and why.”

Mariah Hamang

Mariah Hamang’s “you settled here”

Lisa Bell’s “lokapala of this berg”

“My phrase is ‘lokapala of this berg.’  Lokapala is the Hindu Goddess of the Four Directions; a berg is a mountain. So I take my phrase to mean the guardian of the four directions of the Foothills in Boulder. I am a very spiritual person and have studied many belief systems that honor the Four Directions. I am blessed to live in Boulder and am happy to watch over this berg!”

Lisa Bell

Lisa Bell’s “lokapala of this berg”


Dustin Crazy Little Brown Owl’s story

“My name is Dustin. I am ‘bookstore.’ At age 31, I got my first tattoo of a little brown owl. I had been working at Borders Bookstore in Boulder. Our bookstore closed in April and I got my tattoo in May. That owl was such a big thing in my life that I unofficially added the owl to my name and personality. I am now known as Dustin Crazy Little Brown Owl. The entire experience of getting that first tattoo was so perfect that I went back to Claw & Talon multiple times. Vinny gave me excellent advice and the tattoos offered me something permanent during a time of change. This is how I heard of the Boulder Tattoo Project.

I chose ‘bookstore’ because books became important friends to me in fifth grade and we have remained good friends ever since. I have worked in several bookstores, most recently at Borders in Boulder, until it closed in 2011. The book industry has been struggling in the digital age. I am old-school and prefer books printed on paper. For me, the word ‘bookstore’ represents many memories and an essential part of community. So I feel honored to have ‘bookstore’ tattooed on me as part of the Boulder Tattoo Project and I’m grateful that we have so many bookstores in Boulder. I am an active member of Goodreads, an online social network for readers. You can find me at

I put a lot of thought into all my tattoos. During 2013, as the Boulder Tattoo Project was underway in its various stages, I kept weighing my options for where I would put my Boulder tattoo. I already had 9 tattoos—half sleeves on both arms and large tattoos on my legs—so space was limited. Also, I have plans for future tattoos so some of my skin is reserved. I had been careful not to place any tattoos below my elbow so that I could easily cover my tattoos without wearing long-sleeved shirts. I ultimately decided that I was proud of this community project and I didn’t want to hide my Boulder tattoo. I wanted people around town to recognize that I was part of this amazing coming together of people who live in and love Boulder, Colorado. My bookstore tattoo is placed on my forearm where it is easily noticed. In addition to my bookstore tattoo, I added three commas as part of the Boulder Tattoo Project, becoming a happy member of ‘The Comma Club.’ Keep Boulder Weird and support your local bookstore!”


Dustin Burton

Dustin Burton’s “bookstore”

Natha Perkins’ “melt”

I don’t know why I chose the word melt. I sat on this question for months but I had a hard time capturing the exact answer from my subconscious. Because I like to operatein a sense of the profound, the lack of a concrete answer drove me crazy. It’s not that the tattoo and the word are irrelevant; I had reasons why I chose to do this but the pieces needed a bit of exploration in order to become a whole.
When I went down the list of available words, it just popped out at me. The singularity of it. The way that—because it’s a single word—it can mean so many things. In the poem written about my beautiful Boulder, my heart and my home, it’s used to describe winter turning into spring and I like that meaning. The cold and frozen stillness of the winter slowly softening and transforming itself, drop by drop, into black and green and sunshine.  Yes, that feels right.
And then there’s the thing about me and boundaries. Sometimes they’re strong and sometimes I can’t find a single one anywhere I look. There are days when I’m stuck in rigidity and I’m decided and I’m unbending; irritation rears its ugly head. I feel self-righteous and uncaring, but underneath those sharp thorny feelings is a heart that’s throbbing with perceived powerlessness and desperation. I know that on these days, I’m being issued a challenge; I’m asked to look for edges. The sharp edges of hard and old walls that signify something going on deep within, which requires a little softening and a little melting. An easing of the habitual self-protection and a melting of the discomfort.  In order to align, I must.
And the times when I have no boundaries? The people to whom I can’t say no and the decisions that literally take months to make. The years that pass as I’m not paying attention.  The tendency to enter into relationships and merge so totally that I become them and they become me. The emotions that I pick up from the people around me, the excitement of a crowd or the discontent of a group. The times that I know exactly what someone is thinking and I know exactly what they feel in their hearts and I know exactly what their story is and the places they’ve been and the direction of their thoughts because of a single glance into their eyes. What about those times? Those are the times that I am without boundaries. I’m melting, I’ve melted. The periphery of my brain and body and soul are fluid and porous, transparent, non-existent.
And then there’s the placement of the tattoo itself. That part came after the actual choice of the word but I don’t think that matters. I chose the spot because the word was to become a permanent part of me, and I knew that it needed a place on my skin that was both hidden and exposed. Some people get to see it and some do not. Some will get to know this tattoo intimately and others will never even know of its existence. The word itself is also a symbol of my sexuality; there could be no other way. Words are sensual things for me. The way they roll off the tongue, the way they conjure up intensity. It’s taken me years to get to know myself in relation to my sexuality. It’s taken a lot of words and it’s been an opening and exhilarating journey. The boundaries that I spoke of earlier were at times present and standing guard, but often they were absent, untouchable. This exploration and examination of who I am, the discovery of my comfort in such separate ways of being, has taught me much. The tattoo itself, placed on the dip between my upper thigh and lower hip, makes the inherent sensuality of the word blossom, and that was what I wanted. Melt. I wanted a single word that had the ability to convey words and sentences, paragraphs and novels. Because that is what my sexuality and my very life represent to me. Both are finite and infinite, have boundaries and are boundary-less. They are, I am, the winter melting into spring.”

Natha is a Boulder native and has been loving this city from the inside out since the day she was born here. She is a metalsmith and designs for the jewelry brand Luscious Metals. She is also a holistic life coach and writer. You can find her metal at and her writing at

Natha Perkins

Natha Perkins’ “melt”

Erin Ober’s “where”

where your heart melted into flagstone, the smell of your hands after playing on the
playground, the sound of your dilated heart in the trembling grass
where safe puts your hands behind your back and tickles your finger tips —
you thump to the ground and have the best sleep of your life
where you can move toward this place while moving away
Where invented the only way to be alone
where a dog barks at a blue comet: but what’s the matter?
where you sit in the deep south packing your silverware for a reason that devours you
where the inability to speak, to say, to spit,
yes this is where
where will no longer devour you
where we rustle quiet as wet paper, we fold against each other, soon above us the air
hums with the flood
where grew heavy and fell asleep
where we called the homeless home
and finally the geography of where turned into the geography of you
where I found the where in me.

Erin Ober

Erin Ober’s “where”

The secret image!!!

During our first visit to Boulder, to meet Chelsea in person and to launch the Boulder Tattoo Project, Vinny (Chelsea’s husband and one of the tattoo artists for this artwork)–in a moment of poetic clarity–mentioned how everyone who lives in this city is spiritually connected by a crystal-laid line that runs beneath the soil. Though the internet does not agree with Vinny’s claim about a magical underground stream of crystals running beneath the city, we did learn that Baseline Road is a sort of longitudinal equivalent to the joke Vinny made about crystals. Set on the 40th parallel, Baseline Road is a perfect match for one of the parallels historically used to create planispheres. Planispheres, astronomical equivalents to old-fashioned slide rules, are used to locate constellations in the night sky throughout the course of a year. So … we created a secret image combining a visual of Baseline Road (a line drawn with asphalt rather than with Vinny’s crystals) with an image of an antique Planisphere, thus referencing both Anne Waldman’s celestial poem and Boulderites’ shared love for the natural world.

When all the Boulder Tattoo Project tattoos are assembled to recreate the format of Waldman’s poem, the stars combine to create this secret image. Every participant now carries a part of the image. We love thinking of Boulder as full of stars–both celestial ones and human ones — Kremena and Kurt


Secret image design: step 1

Secret image design: step 1

Secret image design: step 2

Secret image design: step 2

Secret image design: step 3

Secret image design: step 3

Secret image design: step 4

Secret image design: step 4

Secret image design: step 5

Secret image design: step 5

Secret image design: step 6 (individual tattoo design)

Secret image design: step 6 (individual tattoo design)

Bradley Spann’s “mystic native”

“The same black line that was drawn on you was drawn on me.
The Wallflowers

I don’t remember how I first heard of the Boulder Tattoo Project. Did I read an article somewhere or overhear someone mentioning it at a coffee house? Did someone tell me about it? Years ago a friend who was in advertising said there is something called the rule of seven. You have to see an ad seven times before you are consciously aware of it.

I was in Espressoria on Pearl St. when the Boulder Tattoo Project entered my mind for the seventh time. There was a flyer and a card mentioning Anne, the poem, and Lexington, Kentucky. I knew I had to be a part of it. I took the card and then forgot all about it. The card lived amongst my ephemera. I would find it again and again. I was living with friends and renting the couch. My things were in trash bags. Then, after a year of crashing on sofas and living in a friend’s office, I had a place to stay. Even if I had to move away, I wanted to be part of the project. I sent Chelsea an email.

Looking at the poem, I spotted lots of cool phrases. I wanted ‘scorpion’ or ‘Bolder Zodiac.’ My third choice was ‘mystic native.’ After sending my email, I thought I wouldn’t be picked. I also thought I wouldn’t be around in November. My life was in flux. Then things began to get stable. Chelsea let me know that I would be getting ‘mystic native’ tattooed on me. I told a friend and she said, ‘That is cool! It’s cool because you can say you are native to all things mystical.’ I realized I would be around in November. I chose to get the tattoo on my birthday, November 5th.

Getting my tattoo was overwhelming. I showed up early. It was my BIRTHDAY! My first tattoo! I chatted with the tattoo artists. They weren’t open yet. I got the time wrong due to nerves. I came back half an hour later. The place was buzzing with activity. There were a few of us there to get inked. I was excited. Was it going to hurt? I was put at ease by Chelsea’s good humor. Everyone was in a good mood. A woman named Katya mentioned she was going to get a cup of coffee across the street and wanted to know if she could buy me one. She even offered me an apple. I very quickly felt part of something. A woman before me got a tattoo on her shoulder. It was her first. She was all smiles. Adam waved me over and set to work on my tattoo. He said it would not hurt that much. He was right. I was grateful that I had been chosen to be part of the project. Mystic native was soon written on my chest.

Why get a tattoo? Why be part of the Boulder Tattoo Project? All of us, I believe, seek community. We want to belong to something. Some of us are fortunate. We find community with the people we live near, or work with, or play sports with, or play music with. Others take a wrong turn and head down a rough path, which leads us astray. It is all about finding your tribe and a place to belong. I was homeless for about a month last year. I could not find work. I was depressed. Looking for work while being depressed is like a dog chasing its tail. You never get anywhere. It is dizzying. My friends helped me. They housed me. They helped me get a little work here and there. I am fortunate. I was never on the street. It was a dark time filled with tears and shame. A dark passage.

Saying yes to being part of this project was me saying yes to my community. I was saying, ‘I am part of Boulder, Colorado!’ As I wrote above, I did not think I would be around to get the tattoo. I had been thinking of moving to Philadelphia to live with a friend. A new start. My friend is an empty nester. She has plenty of room. She could also possibly help me find work. I even thought of moving back to my hometown, Los Angeles, even though it no longer feels like home. I love my family but now in middle age I had to find my own life.

Saying yes to the project was saying ‘thank you’ to my friends. My tattoo means I am the keeper of something much greater than myself. I am a living work of art. I am two words from a sentence in a poem which represents Boulder. I went to Naropa University and still work there on occasion. Lineage was something mentioned often. It was used in reference to teachers and students. I feel we, the tattooed, can say the same thing. My tattoo represents the Boulder of now. All of our tattoos represent this as well. My community has held me and taken care of me. My tattoo honors my friends, my community.

I left Boulder after I graduated from Naropa in 2009. I never thought I would move back. As much as I had loved it, I had some difficulty with parts of the population. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Call it stupidity. I need not elaborate. When I left, I was angry and hurt. In 2012 a friend offered me work. I was given a place to stay. When I told a friend about my moving back, she said, ‘You will keep coming back to Boulder until you find out what it is you are supposed to get from Boulder.’ I understand that now. Since coming back, I have written a one-man show which I performed in the Boulder Fringe Festival. I will be touring my show across Canada this summer. I have also become part of a storytelling community here. This is why I had to come back. I am proud to say that I represent Boulder, Colorado from now until my dying day.

I have wanderlust. I often find myself yearning for a home. Some places I knew I had to leave the minute I arrived. Some places were close, but no cigar. This may sound very corny, and if it does please forgive, but there are some places which are special. They live inside of you. They never leave you, no matter where you may roam. My tattoo is my remembrance of my past two years in Boulder, written in ink.”

Bradley Spann

Bradley Spann’s “mystic native”