Monday, September 26, 2011


Mark Doty

Somebody who worked in the jailhouse kitchen
cooked up some grease, burnt it black, scraped the carbon
from the griddle. Somebody else made a needle
from the shaft of a filched Bic, ballpoint replaced

with a staple beaten flat, and then the men received,
one at a time, heads of Christ looking up through

streams of blood from his thorny crown, or death's heads
looming over x's of bones. But Tony chose,
for his left shoulder, the sign language glyph for Love,
a simple shape, though hard to read; he had to tell me

what it meant. And then what seemed indifferently made,
not even a sketch, became a kind of blazon

one that both lifted and exposed the man who wore it,
as he sat fumbling with a lighter, too stoned to fire
the pipe he held, using it to point to the character
on his arm, making plain the art of what was written there.
I find this poem beautiful because, for the narrator, the tattoo on Tony's shoulder and Tony himself are inseparable: the truth of the symbol is the beauty of the object.

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