Your love is like a bad tattoo.
I’ve done too much time
in this trailer park and I will
burn your double-wide down
except I’m lazy. Your love
is like a bad tattoo although
you put it on the back of my
eye. It starts “Ramona” and I
can’t read the rest anymore.
I’m tired but I remember what
it says. Something I won’t
repeat is what. I said “love”
but meant a word that sounds
like “trigger” and means
“You’re dead.” Look it up
if you don’t believe me.
Find it near “damn fool”
and “dear god” if there ever
was such a dictionary. And if
there was, you sure already
read it. I studied some Latin
strictly due to you: Semper
fidelis, semper idem, semper
paratus. Always faithful,
ready, and the same. Me or you,
what a question. Anymore
I’m like some Ophelia who took
the other route, fat, drugged,
and gone to seed. Alive though.
Lounging in the wading pool
outside fair Hamlette’s double-wide
in my best plastic sunglasses
and checking my periphery as if
epiphanies might have to sneak
right up on the likes of me. I’m in
need of some coy flowers, a cocktail.
Somebody bring my notebook, too.
I’ll write one of my patented I didn’t
kill myself notes: Hello cruel world
I’m still not leaving again, it’s me.
Your love is like a bad tattoo
deep on my superstructure.
What monks scribble on bones
in ossuaries, I imagine. My latest
affectation is pretending you are
a house I’m haunting with my life.
You don’t think I’m pretending.
Somebody bring me my hood.
I’ll try to keep this short because the poem is already long and so worth reading. I like the rhythm of the poem, which is helped again and again by the line “your love is like a bad tattoo.” The repetition of the line serves as an anchor or a home base to return to, as well as new fuel to propel the speaker forward again. Refrains are commonly (and brilliantly) used in poetry, especially in forms (I’m thinking of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”), but also now in free verse. This poem always seems to remind me of Kenneth Koch’s “To You”—a poem which uses the refrain “I love you as” to great comedic, endearing, crazier-than-shirttails effect. Josh Bell makes the refrain his own, though, with the image of a bad tattoo (“although / you put it on the back of my / eye. It starts Ramona and I / can’t read the rest anymore”) and the steady beat of the line. This is love gone bad, leaving us “fat, drugged / and gone to seed. Alive though.” Alive and writing sarcastic, “patented I didn’t / kill myself notes.” And I think most of us can relate. Most of us are thinking, too, “you are / a house I’m haunting with my life.”
Be sure to check out the rest of the poems in Josh Bell’s No Planets Strike.