“Tattoo” by Todd Davis

Todd Davis


Try telling the boy who’s just had his girlfriend’s name
cut into his arm that there’s slippage between the signifier
and the signified. Or better yet explain to the girl
who watched in the mirror as the tattoo artist stitched
the word for her father’s name (on earth as in heaven)
across her back that words aren’t made of flesh and blood,
that they don’t bite the skin. Language is the animal
we’ve trained to pick up the scent of meaning. It’s why
when the boy hears his father yelling at the door
he sends the dog that he’s kept hungry, that he’s kicked,
then loved, to attack the man, to show him that every word
has a consequence, that language, when used right, hurts.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005


Todd Davis: “I loved poetry growing up. My dad would read Keats and Wordsworth and Frost to us at the dinner table. But I didn’t think I could write it until I read Maxine Kumin’s ‘The Excrement Poem.’ As the son of a veterinarian, I wasn’t exactly sure what poems were made of, what was acceptable to write about and what wasn’t. Kumin showed me that all my years of cleaning shit from kennel floors was worth something, that poems are part of the body and the body doesn’t know the difference between the sacred and the profane.”

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