The Second Tattoo

THE SECOND TATTOO

Pain – intense, persistent,
probing pain, as the cobra
was inscribed, so slowly,
so agonisingly, into the paper-thin skin
on my chest – that was all
I remembered from the first tattoo.

This time, pain was remarkable
only for its absence. “You won’t feel
it, mate” my genial tattooist
informed me. “The skin’s thick
on your neck.” And so it transpired.
Instead of gritting my teeth, I was able
to chat idly as he worked. We speculated
on the likely outcome of the upcoming
general election. In no time at all
he had finished, and I was looking
disbelievingly in the mirror at the
large, dark blue spider’s web on my neck.
He’d made the spider larger, and the
web smaller than I wanted, but no matter.
There it was, undeniably, on my neck;
to be there until the end of time.
I couldn’t believe it had happened.

I walked out of the shop, with uncertain
steps, into my new future, where I was
now transformed into a yob, an unsavoury
member of the underclass, a boozer
and street-brawler. I would certainly
be fired from my respectable office job
upon my return to work.

But I was to find, to my amazement,
my disappointment, my chagrin,
that no-one turned a hair.
A tattoo on my neck, so what – did they care?
It may as well not have been there.

A few weeks ago, I published a poem entitled “The First Tattoo”.  It described my thoughts and feelings as I went to a tattooist for the first time in my life.  I had a perverse urge to get a large tattoo of a cobra done on the front of my throat, and I particularly wanted it to be highly-visible.  In the poem, I recount my disappointment when the tattooist refused to put the tattoo where I wanted it, and would only agree to inscribing it lower down, on my chest.  The whole experience was so painful that it deterred me from getting any more tattoos, but the urge to have a visible tattoo on my neck persisted, and I finally achieved this objective twenty years later.

There has been much public debate in the UK recently regarding an edict prohibiting members of the police force from having “visible tattoos” – i.e. tattoos on the hands, face, or neck.  The debate has raged over whether the police force is kicking itself in the foot, by preventing numbers of perfectly good candidates from entering the force, due to this edict.  The argument has been that, these days, visible tattoos are common among members of the public, so why should police men and women be barred from having them?  I can only say, for myself, that I have never given a thought to getting tattoos on my hands or face, but I have always had this rather strange obsession about getting tattoos on my neck.  I can also say that when – after much doubt and hesitation – I finally got a tattoo on my neck, nobody seemed to give it a second glance! 

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