My Tattoo

by Mark Doty

Mark Doty

I thought I wanted to wear the Sacred Heart, to represent education through

how we’re pierced to flame.
But when I cruised the inkshop’s dragons,

cobalt tigers and eagles in billowy smokes, my allegiance wavered.

Butch lexicon,
anchors and arrows, a sailor’s iconic charms—

tempting, but none of them me. What noun would you want

spoken on your skin your whole life through?
I tried to picture what

I’d never want erased and saw a fire-ring corona of spiked rays,

flaring tongues
surrounding—an emptiness, an open space?

I made my mind up.
I sat in the waiting room chair.
Then something (my nerve?

faith in the guy
with biker boots
and indigo hands?)

wavered. It wasn’t fear; nothing hurts like grief, and I’m used to that.

His dreaming needle was beside the point; don’t I already bear

the etched and flaring marks of an inky trade?
What once was skin

has turned to something made; written and revised beneath these sleeves:

hearts and banners, daggers and flowers and names.
I fled. Then I came back again;

isn’t there always a little more room on the skin? It’s too late

to be unwritten,
and I’m much too scrawled to ever be erased.

Go ahead: prick and stipple and ink me in:
I’ll never be naked again.

From here on out,
I wear the sun,
albeit blue.

Sweet Machine

Last updated December 21, 2022