Mark Doty's My Tattoo

My Tattoo

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

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.

–Mark Doty