Ever been tattooed? It takes a whim of iron,
takes sweating in the antiseptic-stinking parlour,
nothing to read but motorcycle magazines
before the blood-sopped cotton, and, of course, the needle,
all for — at best — some Chinese dragon.
But mostly they do hearts,
hearts skewered, blurry, spurting like the Sacred Heart
on the arms of bikers and sailors.
Even in prison they get by with biro ink and broken glass,
carving hearts into their arms and shoulders.
But women’s are more intimate. They hide theirs,
under shirts and jeans, in order to bestow them.
Like Tracy, who confessed she’d had hers done
one legless weekend with her ex.
Heart. Arrow. Even the bastard’s initials, R.J.L.
somewhere where it hurt, she said,
and when I asked her where, snapped ‘Liverpool’.
Wherever it was, she’d had it sliced away
leaving a scar, she said, pink and glassy
but small, and better than having his mark on her,
that self-same mark of Valentinus,
who was flayed for love, but who never
— so the cardinals now say — existed.
Desanctified, apocryphal, like Christopher,
like the scar you never showed me, Trace,
your ( ), your ex, your ‘Liverpool’.
Still, when I unwrap the odd anonymous note
I let myself believe that it’s from you.