Tattoos

Next week, if enough of my colleagues sign up to attend, I’ll run a short poetry writing workshop. I’ve missed writing poetry this year – one of the functions of teaching a poetry unit to creative writers is actually writing a ton of poetry. Those six years reading and writing poetry alongside students stretched my usual practice. Poetry shakes loose writing inhibitions. But after years of writing poetry, you really must take Raymond Carver’s advice and make use of the things around you.

This week, that is tattoos. I half listened in on a conversation between colleagues about tattoos they have, tattoos they want, tattoo artists here in Seoul, plans to go, maybe, and at the end of the conversation, perhaps sensing my eavesdropping, Daniel turned to me and asked did I want to get a tattoo. I said I’ve been thinking about my tattoo for twenty years. So.


I’ve Thought About My Tattoo For Twenty Years

One summer I sat next to a boy at church camp,
saw GRACE tattooed in black letters on the inside
of his forearm – this tenet of faith extended to
him to extend to others. I asked did he have any
other tattoos? He said yeah, they were where
he couldn’t show me and others at the lunch table
laughed while I blushed. He patted my shoulder,
said he was only joking

That summer I thought about the tattoo I might
get, a tiny Christian fish on my foot, walking the
gospel, or maybe a winged fleet foot at the ball
of my ankle because I was running and running
and one day going to run very, very far

In college I saw enough tattoo regrets to stick
to piercings. Bleeding ink, misshapen faces,
calligraphed anything, kanji you can only hope
reads hope, thick useless bands around biceps,
nosegays, suns, stars and compasses, an animal
kingdom of cartoons, four leaf clovers and realistic
wolves. I stumbled the gospel more than walked,
relieved I wasn’t also advertising my failure

When I returned to amazing grace I remembered
GRACE, turned my wrist over to imagine grace the
color of a freckle on delicate skin. Or a thin line like
pencil lead sketching the Holy Spirit dove in one line

After a long winter I wanted a piece of green
somewhere on my body, and in Colombia I saw the
many shapes leaves take in a climate of perpetual
spring, perpetual fall – but I did not make myself
a forest. I thought to dash watercolor at my right
collarbone. I thought to tattoo a favorite piece of
punctuation, the –

Or I might use my flesh to write what is written
on my heart, words of life I reread, memorize in
shorthand: rejoice, give thanks, pray/ belong to
the day/ in everything/ workmanship/ faith, hope,
love/ unstained/ draw near/ pleasant places. Each
year or season collects phrases I whisper, pray –
these are for my whole life and for the moment in
front of me. My body would be covered in affirming,
uncomfortable, confrontational scripture to complicate
or clarify my living any of this

Finally I think of white ink. Draw the borders of each
country I have lived, draw the borders one over
another so the thin lines entwine, knot

The marks on my body are not inked. I have freckles
the color of freckles. I have a birthmark like a brushstroke.
I have stretch marks at my hips, like wavery white ink,
and age draws fuschia squiggles on my thighs. I am a
body marked, but –

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