Tattoo Poetry: The Ink’s Journey Prompt

Tattoo poetry is visual poetry. It is ink transformingtelling a story or covering one, or giving a person something to live into that is yet untold.

Poetry Prompt

Be the ink that tells a story. Find your way under someone’s skin. Do you want to be there, or are you entering against your will? Give us a poem from the ink’s perspective. Tell a story or cover one—or give the person you’re entering something new to live into.

Thanks to our participants in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s a recent Tattoo poem we enjoyed from Maureen…

Born in the Year of the Dragon

for Josh Burdette

You slept with dragons
without eyes, your chest,
your arms, that broad back

their shelter, semi-covered lair.
Who knew a man with silver
horns in his nose studied

the Chinese zodiac, believed
in legends no one tells sitting
amid the flash of downtown’s

ink shops? You made choices,
you said, marked your skin
over and over with the sign

of the year you drew your first
breath — yang to snake’s yin.
Hundreds of hours you spent

making your body a showcase,
the artists with their irons
careful to avoid the tangents

that deprive each spirit animal
space to roam your 340 pounds
free on six-foot four-inch frame.

You did security, checked ids,
made the bands feel welcome,
gave in to no temptation but

the tattoos and the piercings.
A guy with a psych degree, you
didn’t get to finish your story.

You always intended to give
them eyes, to let them waken
to leave you when you died.

—Maureen Doallas

Maureen’s poem was inspired by a recent Washington Post article about Josh Burdette, “security doer” for Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club.

Call for Tattoo Photos for September Poetry Prompts

Do you have a tattoo? Are you willing to photograph it and share the photo with us, for possible use for our September poetry prompts? (Our September theme is tattoos.) If so, please share via Twitter or Pinterest and give us an @tspoetry or @EDaypoems, so we can find the share.)

Photo by A. Pagliaricci, Creative Commons, via Flickr.


Sometimes we feature your poems in Every Day Poems, with your permission of course. Thanks for writing with us!

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  1. Richard Maxson says

    Eve’s Tattoo

    Let the ink tell the real story,
    not his dream of me—the assistant,
    standing naked, the snake coiled
    around my arm, the temptress
    with the son who died
    for pride and smoke.

    Show my daughters how
    we threshed the dry grain,
    and baked the flat bread,
    on the rocks of a sad history,
    hidden behind splendor.

    It’s not easy with gods
    and men, nailing their edicts
    to a tree, one way or another,
    making their pronouncements,
    from balconies and mountaintops.

    Their gods expect compliance,
    but we are the mavens
    who haggle sheep for a life,
    from our cloth and paper prisons,
    to keep the promises true.

    You can believe the old story,
    if it helps you sleep,
    but remember, I am in you
    always, the cage bone,
    the one closest to the heart.

    • says

      Well-told! I like this a lot, Richard, especially the opening line and these lines: “It’s not easy with gods/ and mens, nailing their edicts / to a tree” and “I am in you / always, / the cage bone, / the one closest to the heart.”

  2. says

    Thank you for featuring my poem today. I still find myself thinking about Josh’s story, the sadness of his life’s ending. He was the perfect example of how wrong people can be in making judgments based on appearance, and the stories shared since his death confirm the lives he touched.

  3. Richard Maxson says

    When the Whistle Blows

    After the boys came home,
    she wanted the sunshine,
    shifted back the furniture,
    but couldn’t settled into it.

    She kept her sleeves rolled;
    sooner or later he would see
    the tattoo, find the bandanna—
    the respite from braids and brushes.

    He would notice the fresh
    breeze that ruffled her curls,
    parted the curtains and covering
    folds of her skirts, lifted her sassy
    from a wife to a wet whistle.

    He looked for her; the sounds
    she made for him before his call
    to glory were drowned out down
    the outbound road, by her heels
    in those new found steel-toed shoes.

  4. says

    prompt triggered a search through my database for this poem written over ten years ago.


    Tattoo battered pendulum arms
    Of the things he’s seen
    Blue birds and tangled webs
    Vines and dark angels on Harleys.

    Back and forth his arms the
    Hue of hope, descant, memory
    Part flesh, part art.

    Air, arms pumping
    ahead of him, as a
    constant reminder of
    the things he’s seen
    and where he’s been.

    Mother, then
    Then, Mother

    Turning slightly, I see at the center of his chest
    Sliced with dye, a crucified Christ,
    His back, a Chagall canvas where
    The winds whip welts, wounds, worn
    The things that are behind
    Him, part flesh, part art.

    He stares ahead as he cuts a swath
    Through the beauty of the lilies,
    Picassos serendipity tracks mutilating his inner
    Arms, pumping, self abusive, reborn
    Through the passage of the day,
    The poison slowly dripping off his fingertips.

  5. says


    will you embrace me?
    thickly, brazenly in charge
    over this rainbow pallet.

    I know you’ll love me the most.
    my love for you will never fade,
    or let you down,
    (never) clash with your life
    in any way.

    you can wear whatever you like around me.
    I will love you deeply.
    stay with you, forever …
    and … you will always remember, me.


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