I’ve always been fascinated by tattoos and tattooists, and, over the years, I’ve accumulated a total of five tattoos on various parts of my body. The first time I went to a Tattoo Parlour – in fear and trembling – I got a bit of a surprise. Instead of the rather fearsome, flamboyant figure I had imagined, my tattooist turned out to be a quietly-spoken, serious-looking individual, whose eyes seemed to bore into my soul. I was, stupidly, asking him to do a large tattoo, extending from the upper area of my chest to the lower part of my throat. He said he intended to confine the tattoo to my chest, rather than have it intruding into the neck area. When I asked why, he fixed me with his sober gaze, and explained, patiently: “You might want to cover it up, you see. Not have it visible all the time.” I was about to protest at this, but realised the man was implacable. He was absolutely right, of course – I was working as a civil servant at the time, and tattoos were not as universally accepted in those days as they are now. If I had suddenly started displaying a startling-looking tattoo on my neck, there could have been dire consequences.
I have since found out that my first tattooist was not an unusual case. The vast majority of tattooists are people of honesty and integrity, who take their work intensely seriously. My poem on the subject is an unashamed song of praise to an unappreciated profession.
Artists of unacclaimed allure.
Their shops can be evanescent
phenomena. Appearing, unannounced;
injecting colourful character
into those parts of the neighbourhood
ignored by the bourgeoisie. Then,
just as suddenly, vanishing.
Virtuosos of violent imagery.
There is something of the fairground
to them. A novitiate customer,
screwing his courage to the sticking
place, almost expects to find mermaid
foetuses in a jar, or faded
photos of bearded ladies. Instead,
there is a person integrated,
at ease with himself. They strip
the surface of your skin, with eyes
capable of scrutinising your soul.
Practitioners of painful precision.
Theirs is an art of frustration, ruled
by ill-inspired consumer wishes.
But theirs, also, the glory: adorning
pallid, uninteresting flesh with
images of indelible splendour.