Tattoo ||| Rattle

Try telling the boy who’s just had his girlfriend’s name
cut into his arm that there’s slippage between the signifier
and the signified. Or better yet explain to the girl
who watched in the mirror as the tattoo artist stitched
the word for her father’s name (on earth as in heaven)
across her back that words aren’t made of flesh and blood,
that they don’t bite the skin. Language is the animal
we’ve trained to pick up the scent of meaning. It’s why
when the boy hears his father yelling at the door
he sends the dog that he’s kept hungry, that he’s kicked,
then loved, to attack the man, to show him that every word
has a consequence, that language, when used right, hurts.


Todd Davis is the author of five books of poems, most recently Winterkill and In the Kingdom of the Ditch, both published by Michigan State University Press. He also edited Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball (Michigan State University Press, 2012) and Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets (SUNY Press, 2010). New poems are forthcoming or have recently appeared in Gettysburg Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Arts & Letters, Missouri Review, Poet Lore, West Branch, Sou’wester, and Notre Dame Review. He is a fellow of the Black Earth Institute and teaches environmental studies and creative writing at Penn State University’s Altoona College. He can be found here:

Tattoo” first appeared in Rattle Issue 11.1 in 2005 and was later included in Some Heaven (Michigan State University Press, 2007).