Having perfected the process,
I open a shop in Hampton Beach
and entice the girls in swimsuits
to bare their favorite skin-parts.
Its simple: first I slit the hide
so I can anchor the tattoo
in a layer of leathery scar.
Then I fit the mold above the wound
and fill it with melted vinyl,
rubber, bronze or brass. When it cools
I remove the mold then paint
the extrusion with appropriate
shades of tough enamel. Men
prefer jagged mountain ranges,
towering modernist skylines,
rockets poised for launch, Harleys
wheeling in packs. Women choose
tiny couples locked in love,
beach scenes bristly with palm trees,
rows of rose-dappled cottages
and cats playing with yarn balls.
Both genders like their tattoos
in their most private places.
Most go into the groin or breasts,
where under street clothes the jagged
effect is nearly concealed.
Only in the ache of passion
does the tattoo reveal itself
fully, exciting both parties
to acts they can't comprehend.
I enjoy my work, and prosper.
My friends urge me to expand
by training many assistants
and opening studios in Nice,
Brighton, Bali, and Coney Island.
But I’d rather keep the process
to myself. The bodies flash and bleed,
and the tattoos heal into place
with geological aplomb,
my clients grinning with the pleasure
only pain, with many promises,
can inflict without regret.
So your hamsters had babies
and the male tore all five heads off
the newborns and ate them, working
with gusto the pinkish nut-meat
from the papery little shells.
Now you understand the Cronus myth
and how, if not why, he devoured
his children. You, being a child,
are desolate in the presence
of the headless beanbag babies,
are desolate thinking of Cronus
but, never having heard the name,
thinking instead of your father
and how he could have devoured you,
should have devoured you at birth.
Wood chips, lettuce, and hard gray feces,
the wheel that creaks round and round
these appear so commonplace
while your cries seem unnaturally rude.
Enters your father, grinning
his consolatory grin. You look
into the maw of Cronus and taste
your blood. The hamsters, alert
to stress, refuse to bear children
in this house, refuse the task
of entertaining you forever
and forever. So you resolve
to grow old enough to read
whichever book of gods and devils
has shaped your suburban family
and teased the caged inhabitants
with a taste of familiar flesh.
Eighty years later, the smell lingers.
The mill where it happened stands vacant,
yellow brick five stories high.
I stand in the huge open sprawl
of the third floor, tasting the screams
that ruptured when a loom-fixer crazed
by infidelities used his knife
so adroitly three women died,
gutted, before a crowd disarmed him.
I suppose he went to a madhouse,
but the historical record fades
in the uplift of the Great War
and no one reported the trial.
The sheriff, though, when he faced
the blood-splattered mess felt “cold
as November, the numb crawling up
from my wrists and ankles, my soul
diseased by the sight.”
faint pink stains still visible
through coat after coat of whitewash.
As I face the abyss of decades
the vacancy fills with power looms
roaring like Niagara. A corpse
forms in a sullen dimension
lacking repose. Its wide-eyed shock
at the entrails it clutches
tatters the fabric of time and space.
Now I see all three of them.
Though a hundred people worked here
on the third floor the dead are alone
with themselves. A rustle of voices
fragile as burning paper suggests
the horror the witnesses felt
and shame for their slow reactions
when they might’ve saved a life or two.
I blink away the illusion
and my eyes feel so dry they itch.
I explore the rest of the empty
mill, but too many vandals
have preceded me. Nothing left
to pilfer, only the inscriptions
scratched on the wooden pillars—
Josie, 1898, Karl
1907. No one’s alive
who remembers the murders.
But the building does, the stains
as permanent as the imprint
of the Great God, and the stricken
gaze of the dead photographed
by the same universal fear
that Jung mistook for memory
or the unconscious: the same fear
I prefer to indict as the love
that moves all, inscribing itself
by preference directly on flesh.
© 2003 William Doreski
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