Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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for Susan Losapio

He starts at the end, writing backward SO LONG AS THERE IS LIFE,
pneumatic needle dripping
pigment beneath skin. My first tattoo, and I’m surprised
how easy it is to numb myself,

hang the muscle limp in my arm and house my mind in other parts
of my body. My eyes shift
to flash print pirate ships, crosses, and leopards on the walls,
focus on my tattooer’s arms—
sleeved with pin-up girls and skulls, the same tats I’d seen on the Gravitron
operator in the thick of my Jersey

boardwalk childhood. A slow night so the carny climbed in the whirling
cylinder, planted his feet
into the wall, and showed me how to surf the centrifugal. My memory
is my mother’s, something she says

I’ll regret as often as not. At sixteen, she had just gotten pierced ears—
first in the family.
Her parents said she’d look like a gypsy, shiftless, and even
when they relented,
sent her to a surgeon instead of the mall where her friends went to alter
themselves. The doctor pinched

her lobes to numb them, punched lopsided holes, and opened her to infection.
In an hour I leave with bandages
saran-wrapped to my shoulder. My flesh recalls the needle
for days, strange things—

a cool breeze, a sip of whiskey, a sneeze—shock the ink to life.
When my mother passes, she wants
me to plant a lilac in her ashes, quizzes me every year to make sure
I remember. I do, but
what if I tattoo the flower’s purple and white-rim petals
on my calf and keep her

cradled in my shoe or grind her into a vial of mummy brown
like an Egyptian queen,
write this poem with her ink and then entomb the pen in a cigar box
sarcophagus? What if

I consume her powder box shadow, light a torch, and spit her
into night sky? Would that break
my promise? I wish I remembered how that carny halted
the ride from within it,
if he did—machinery spiraling him up into dust and star gleam,
the next brief stop.  end  

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