American Life in Poetry: Column 167

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Among young people, tattoos are all the rage and, someday, dermatologists will grow rich as kings removing them from a lot of middle-aged people who have grown embarrassed by their colorful skins. I really like this poem by Sharmila Voorakkara of Ohio.

For the Tattooed Man

Because she broke your heart, Shannon’s a badge—
a seven-letter skidmark that scars up
across your chest, a flare of indelible script.
Between Death or Glory, and Mama, she rages,
scales the trellis of your rib cage;
her red hair swings down to bracket your ankles, whip
up the braid of your backbone, cuff your wrists.  She keeps
you sleepless with her afterimage,

and each pinned and martyred limb aches for more.
Her memory wraps you like a vise.
How simple the pain that trails and graces
the length of your body.  How it fans, blazes,
writes itself over in the blood’s tightening sighs,
bruises into wisdom you have no name for.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2005 by Sharmila Voorakkara, whose most recent book of poetry is Fire Wheel, Univ. of Akron Press, 2003. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.