Tattoos

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INK

Cardamom, ginger,
pomegranate bark. Bamboo
shoots, asparagus,

damp smouldering leaves —
mugwort mordant in votives.
Wicker baskets, rows

and rows of trays, jars
decanting tarragon, dried
dandelions, black

mushrooms, bear bladders.
Aisles of densities, textures:
dry dun-colored globes,

the testes of arctic
seals; cicada skins, fingers
of ginseng. Silver

Assam teas, great sacks
of rice, geese screeching from crates.
A string of small carved

jades by the cashbox —
characters, crosses, one
heart the size of a

thumbnail and grey-green,
dark-veined, surprisingly rough.
“Good for the kidneys,”

says the clerk — young, stripped
to the waist, a great dragon’s
body rippling across

his back, undulant
as he turns, wrapping spices,
plum wine, packages

in brown kraft, tying
them with string. Smoke from joss sticks
swirls, that dragon’s breath.

 

CANVAS

Sheets stiff as sacking;
towels lacy from years of
laundering; tables
pocked with cigarette
burns; a ceiling fan wafting
disinfectant, spent

passions; a slot machine
dispensing condoms in three
colors — red, navy, near-
black — Stardust Hotel
Clean Rooms by the Hour — neon
blues, reds, blurring past

our window, through blinds
that won’t quite shut (one slat slants
diagonal) printing
its ladder of light
all the way down your back. Here
with you, I don’t care

about tawdry or
geography; I want you
so much it hurts to
breathe, want your voice, telling
me about anchors, hearts, names
like Winona,

or Felecia
(either regional or
seductive); about
needles; about inks
of cinnabar, navy, that
almost piceous

black; about the tattoo
of skin against skin, that
most ephemeral
of canvases, which
right now seems worth any
multiplicity of stings.