“Seated Nude,” oil on canvas, by Brian Hatton, 1906.

by Chris Atkin

I decided a long time ago I wanted one tattoo.
A single image that screams of self,
meant to say all the things I cannot find the words for.
Today I’m in my thirties and my skin is still bare.

I blame it on my fear of permanence, or needles,
or what my Mormon mother might say when I come home
for Thanksgiving with something etched deeper in my skin
than my fear of god will ever be.

But those are just excuses,
something to say to postpone grappling with
all my indecision for another day.
The truth is, I look in the mirror and I can see
every moment that left a mark upon me
and I can’t decide which one to immortalize
with blood and ink.

I spent most of my life a few hundred pounds overweight,
so do I get something that symbolizes everything
I’ve had to carry? Or how it felt to slough so much of it off
one mile at a time?

Or should my tattoo tell the story of the oldest child?
The one who spent the time between english class
and football practice throwing himself between his siblings
and their father and all the venom on his tongue?

Maybe make it a monument to the lonely heart,
the one whose only known love when it was unrequited,
the broken boy who blocked his own shot
over and over again.

The writer in me knows you cannot tell a life’s story
on a single page and not leave all the messy details out.
And what a boring page that would be.
So instead of settling for one image,
just tattoo me a tapestry.

Give me Giles Corey breaking under that final boulder,
even as he screams for more.
Weave him in with images of Esau, and Lucifer,
and all the other fallen first born sons.
Paint my skin with portraits of Cyrano de Bergerac,
and Quasimodo, and Charlie Brown,
and so many other boys who loved a girl
who could not love him back.

Inlay it with iron rods, and feather pens,
and all the words I wish I had written first,
and maybe when it’s finally done, it might be enough
to capture the smallest piece of me.

“Blood and Ink” originally appeared as a spoken word poem on TikTok.

Chris Atkin is a high school English teacher, poet, and spoken word artist from Orem, UT. He has a B.A. in Education from Utah Valley University. “Blood and Ink” is his first journal publication.