“Regret Tattoos” by John Richard Smith

John Richard Smith


The tattoo artist said 
everyone with multiple tattoos 
has at least one regret tattoo, 
slip a thumb in a belt loop, 
yank down their jeans a bit, 
and voilà! an infinity sign 
their best friend inked in 
with a safety pin weeks before 
they stopped speaking 
or a murky scorpion 
submerged below the surface 
of their hip where the sleaziest 
tattoo parlor on the planet 
stumbled into the drunkest 
night of their life. 
If there isn’t a blurry rose 
behind an ear or a small, 
fuzzy heart on a tit 
that looks like a bloody tick, 
then a jagged butterfly 
or crooked spider 
made from someone’s initials 
stands corrected 
on a shoulder. 
Skin sags over time, 
the pirate skull’s jaw drops—
not so badass anymore—
and sooner or later, 
even the best quotes 
wear thin like tires, 
and translating 
the ones in Latin
becomes wearisome 
and anticlimactic.
Then the regrets 
wear out as well, 
until all tattoos 
are simply stops 
the person has made
along their way,
and their body 
no more than the package
handled, tracked, 
and postmarked
before being delivered to them 
where they are 
when they already own 
what’s inside.

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022


John Richard Smith: “My daughter, Tara, was talking with her younger sister, Sam, one night about their tattoos, bad tattoos, tattoos friends wish they didn’t have—regret tattoos, Tara called them. Sam asked Tara if she had any regret tattoos. Tara shrieked, ‘All of them!’ Then laughed and said, ‘And none of them.’ The next morning, I wrote this poem.”

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