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198th Weekly Poetry Contest honorable mention: Tattoo

by JP Davies

Nothing as obvious as the letting of blood
for these brothers in way of initiation,
wrists crossed as the warm wetness seeped
into Swiss Army Knife rust.
Instead, a ragged blue circle stabbed
into the back of each boy’s hand,
held steady to deter any act of cowardice.
Doubtful the ten-year-old tattooist
had reached the top of his trade;
needle made white-hot in the corporation yard
bonfire, pot of ink pocketed from class.
Whichever one of them stepped up first
to prove this wasn’t a game,
stomaching agony as the needle
snaketoothed into skin, the soft gristle,
ink floundering in the bloodstream;
took this solemn ceremony as the end
of time passing. In simple design, the blue spot
the start of a new understanding.

Forty-five years on, we have brought you back
to the Birkenhead street names of your stories.
Passing the corporation yard’s spilt blood and ink,
the ritual site buried beneath new homes;
gone voices rising through the floorboards.
In this makeshift chapel,
as if to show off the tattoo
they have placed your hands
one over the other,
which I now smother in my own and rub
that they should not be so cold.
Rub the spot as you must have done
when a new wound,
determined not to cry.
It’s not so bad after awhile, you said
to the others still waiting in line;
already tending the backs of their hands,
where the blue spot would begin to travel
as the flesh grew.

Published in 'Pulp Literature'

198th Weekly Poetry Contest