My Brother’s Tattoo
He might have chosen the Sacred Heart,
symbol of compassion both eternal
and all-consuming. The idea of redemption
like a bruise upon the shoulder.
Might have chosen a former lover’s name;
or, more provocatively, the naked form of a woman,
representation of flesh carved into flesh,
the body that will not be denied. He chose
instead, to be engraved upon his right forearm,
the too-familiar image of the Grim Reaper —
the scythe, the hourglass, the bony grimace
emerging through a cloak full of night,
its shadow longer than any story invented.
He must have known, I think, he would
not be here long, must have carried what we
all carry a bit closer beneath the skin.
And this is the image he departs with —
reminder of the commonality
we endlessly attempt to evade, the face beneath
the face; an image that lasts only as long
as the flesh to which it clings.
Juror comments: Poet Deborah Keenan, who chose My Brother’s Tattoo for the 2009 cycle of What Light/mnLIT, says, “I selected this poem for its sense of elegy and love, for its vivid portrait of the lost brother, and for the way the poem builds to include us all in the ways we puzzle over those we are close to, and how we take the personal and create our own cosmologies.”
About the poet: Greg Watson‘s poetry has appeared in numerous literary reviews, including The Seattle Review, Tulane Review, and Poetry East, as well as Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. His most recent collections are Things You Will Never See Again and The Distance Between Two Hands, both published by March Street Press. A new book, Not Elsewhere, But Here, will be published later this year.
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