Poem: Much Tattooed Sailor… by Jehanne Dubrow


Much-Tattooed Sailor Aboard the USS New Jersey
Squint a little, and that’s my husband in the photograph, the sailor on the left,
the one wearing a rose composed of ink and the Little Bo Peep who stands
before a tiny setting sun and the blur on his forearm which might be a boat,
while the sailor on the right is leaning in, his fingers touching the other man’s skin,
tracing what looks like the top of an anchor or the intricate hilt of a sword, perhaps
wiping blood from the artful laceration, in his other hand something crumpled,
his cap I think or a cloth to shine brass, lights on a bulkhead, fittings and fixtures,
because let’s not forget this picture must be posed, the men interrupted,
mops laid down, ropes left uncoiled, or else on a smoke break, Zippo and Lucky Strikes
put aside, the men shirtless on a deck, legs bent at beautiful angles,
a classical composition this contrast of bodies and dungarees, denim gone black
and their shoulders full of shadow, although on second thought how effortless
this scene, both of them gazing toward a half-seen tattoo so that we too lean in
trying to make out the design on the bicep, close enough we can almost smell the salt
of them and the oil of machinery, which is of course the point, as when in a
poem I call the cruiser’s engine a pulse inside
my palm or describe my husband’s uniform,
ask him to repeat the litany of ships and billets,
how one deployment he sliced himself on a piece of pipe and how the cut refused
to shut for months. Hold still, I tell him, I need to get the exquisite outline of your
scar.

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