STICK AND POKE TATTOO by Lucian Mattison

/ / Issue 9, Poetry

He sets a black chess

                                                   rook aflame

             in a ceramic bowl

                                    stirs ashes with vodka

into homemade tattoo ink

                         retraces the fading

                         ink retraces

                                                   the faded line

a second year

                                    of scrawl down his leg

he knows the needle point

                                                   coarse poke

             like pubic hair

                                    on thighs

                                                                  cold boxcar

                         metal to skin

where thousand mile

                         paper slips

                         away slips away

by stick and poke

                                    he hems

                                                   a strange curve

down thigh skin

                         inscribes a timeline

memory of her

                                    hands guiding the needle

                         years that follow

                                    this scar’s endless

drip blood and ink since

                         she last left

                         since she last

left he burns

                                                   a chess rook

             royal into carbon

black ash ounce

                                    of vodka its carrier

two years retracing

             extending this thread

                                    single cord pricked

             down his left leg

                         a lifeline

                         a fishhook

                         a question mark

             depending on the day