THE FIRST TATTOO
Like everything else, I left it late;
‘til the grand old age of thirty eight.
Adolescent rebellion running late,
I wanted to “epater la bourgeoisie”
with a large King Cobra;
hooded, menacing, poised to strike,
tattooed onto my throat.
But my wise tattooist was having
none of it.
“I ain’t putting it there, mate.
You might want to cover it up, see.”
Priming his weapon, ignoring my frown,
he insisted on putting it lower down.
The cobra would be etched upon my chest;
to be visible only in a low-cut vest.
So began the tortuous process,
searing the soul, like bare feet
trudging across burning coals.
My cobra began to communicate
with me; a disquisition on the nature
of pain. So much pain in life we tolerate,
we bear. It is necessary, inescapable;
part of the tissue of our existence.
But how to justify this pain,
this needle, sinking in, inscribing
its torture into my sensitive skin?
This pain was inessential, self-imposed,
masochistic frippery. So mused the cobra,
fangs sunk into my skin; its venomous
thoughts teeming through my brain.
Why open myself to this intolerable pain?
I must never, ever, invite it again.
So ended an hour of nightmare.
Twenty years would pass,
before I would dare
to contemplate returning there.
I acquired my two latest tattoos over the last couple of months, making a grand total of seven. I think it doubtful, now, whether I shall get any more. I am in my sixty-sixth year, and have always wanted my tattoos to be on prominent, easily-visible parts of my body. As I already have them on my arms, chest and neck, that really only leaves my face as uncharted territory – and facial tattoos are a step too far, I think. Getting a new tattoo has always been an intense experience for me, and the recent ones made me think about my whole tattooing history. It seems rather odd that I got my first tattoo almost thirty years ago, and yet the last six tattoos have all come within the last six years. How to explain the gap of twenty-one years in the middle? That was the origin of the poem “The First Tattoo”.