Two Tattoos


Tattoo One: On the Corporate and Politic Bodies

Across my town, the shops and offices are short.
Its buildings don’t blot out the sun. There’s sky to spare.
However, needling, thin, construction cranes consort
With straight-edged arms and steel-thread lines to pierce the air.

Soon architects’ designs will be indelible,
The town line drilled with hard-edged boundaries
Until there’s just a lid of sky—unsellable—
Though City Hall still has the corporate will to please.


Tattoo Two: Too Much Information

While walking through the narrow town, I passed this guy
in sleeveless shirt and tattooed arms to fingertips
(not unlike the patterns of organic dye

that certain Asian women paint across each hand
at festivals (though his were more like comic strips
but mashed so close they were too hard to understand.))

He show-cased beasts and humans lined in violent colour:
thorns, lumped blood drops, daggered heartbreaks, hatchets, whips,
white, cracked skulls—carved in grim, exacting squalor.

On riddled thighs (from tiny shorts) a scaley nose
hard-snorted smog and green-based, dragon poison drips
and squeezed its gyring body parts around rapt rows

of snarled, gyrating devils massing to attack
some missing target near his covered, ambling hips
(maybe me, or some poor soul behind my back).

His face was clear of ink, and looked most scrupulous,
though up his neck and ears there wept a bunch of tulips
choked by fists—he’d have to be an octopus

to take on all the images he’d like to use,
for, God forbid, he’d let the drill gnaw to his lips,
or use one skilled on lids to make his eyes not bruise.

When I told a friend, a frank, religious guy,
of what I’d seen, he wasn’t fazed and made some quips
about such creatures never reaching God up high;

that if your body’s scarified up to the eyes,
you’re just a human snake and so must come to grips
with shedding skin—for your soul to grow or rise.

He likened tattoo drilling points to iceberg tips
that freeze on skins their massive, cold-heart, karmic curse.
(While I agree, my moral compass needle slips
to rubberneck this graphic crash in septic verse.)



Damian Robin is a writer and editor living in the United Kingdom.

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13 Responses

  1. Rob Crisell

    Thank you, Damian:”Tattoo Two: Too” (!) is one of my favorite poems that I’ve ever read on this site. I love the choice of terza rima; so appropriate to describe what seems to be a hellish “gyre” of assorted tattoos. I enjoy how the enjambed lines work with the form to urge us onward on our journey through this inky, nightmare landscape. In my imagination, you even meet your own Virgil at the end, who explains the deeper meaning behind all the body ink. I certainly have had this “rubbernecking” experience after seeing a person who has rashly decided to turn his skin into a canvas. Well done.

    • C.B. Anderson


      I’m not sure what this is (it might be a nonce form), but it is certainly not terza rima!

      • Rob Crisell

        Thanks, Kip. You’re right, of course. The tercets and chain rhymes fooled me (even the A-b-a-b quatrain at the end). It certainly gave me the same feeling as terza rima. Whatever it is, Damian, I really like it!

    • Damian Robin

      Wow this is high personal praise. Thanks Rob, good to reach a ‘(one of my) favourite’ category!
      I like your observation about meeting my own Virgil. He’s a poet I’ve found enmeshed in genres I don’t appreciate, he being so mannered and pastoral in his early work and I being very urban in my upbringing. But it is probably that I haven’t found a favourable translation.

      • Damian Robin

        Thanks for your correction of Rob’s diagnosis of the form, Kip. I believe a nonce form is a form made the particular occasion it is used. I would agree with that. Your astute recognition of formal aspects of poetry is always valued.

      • Damian Robin

        And well done with your explanation of why it seemed like a terza rima, Rob. And I’m glad you like the form.

  2. Rod

    These are really good Damian! Like Rob, I especially appreciated the TMI one which is the first I’ve seen of its type. Graphically descriptive such that I could see the guy in my mind’s eye. Good ink Damian!

    • Damian Robin

      Thanks Rod. I was educated in art colleges. In the Foundation course at (what was then called) The London College of Printing, there was a large banner with the clear statement DON’T THINK, LOOK. I still appreciate this, though introducing more thinking has helped me balance life.

      And there was a lot of good ink at that print school.

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Two poetic treats! Tattoo One: I’ve been watching Grand Designs, and last night’s episode was about the tiniest plot in East London that was so small that half the house was built underground. The vision of that unsellable lid of sky is just perfect. Tattoo Two is bursting with “Too Much Information” that grabbed me, captured my sensibilities and left me with images that delight and disturb in equal measures – the sign of a very fine poem. Thank you for the wonderful poetic trip, Mr. Robin.

  4. Damian Robin

    Is the house you mention this one in ?
    I will search for the episode for when my wife comes out of hospital. She is a fan of Grand Designs.

    Your comments “delight and disturb” me. They are measured and very pleasing, and you pinpoint a lot of what I intended (so, disturbing in the surprised sense).

    Nice how you wrapped up with ‘trip’. I wonder do young people know this word in its sixties manifestation (as I think you are using it, and is how I though of the imagined tattooed skin).

    I appreciate your appreciation, Susan. Thanks.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      It’s a privilege to hear your intentions with “Tatoo Two: Too Much Information” (I love the humorous title), and I’m glad to have tapped in to a lot of what you intended. It really is a breathtaking piece that engages the senses and gets the mind whirring – great stuff!

      As for Grand Designs, that is the episode I mentioned. It’s a marvel of modern architecture all brought to fruition by a 26 year old. It makes a rabbit-hutch home look like a castle – it’s somewhat of a miracle. Episode 9 of Season 15 is the best… it’s set in Herefordshire, takes ten years to build from scraps, and it is simply… I won’t spoil the surprise. I wish your wife a speedy recovery and fun watching Kevin McCloud.


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