Erin Keane

Lectio Divina of the Tattooed Lady

When you wake up, brash morning
busting through my gauzy curtains,
gloriole outlining this rollercoaster
of a body, use one finger. Trace
the green, blue, black, violet ink

carved into my skin, words from wounds
healed to beautiful scar. This is how
I mend: epidermis knits, but raised,
a topographical map, a kind of Braille.
Read me slow, mouth into the pillow—

bawdy apocrypha circling ears, down
to symbol-studded ankles, antiquity
transformed under Airstream roof
and you might as well learn something
after such a guilty night. Alphabets

intermingle. What are you trying
to cover?
you ask, anonymous
novitiate, until I shush your mouth, drag
palm over apologia—je ne viens pas
ce soir vaincre ton corps—

down my back. A small lie, blessed
but you linger, discerning what
I will give. Lay your thinking
aside. Runes etched behind my knee
reveal: it hurt, sure, but only the one

who inflicts the pain can take it away
frames my shoulder blade. Rest in me,
listen. Take what you will. I know:
it's all surface, it's all that keeps you
from cutting me open to count the rings.

The Tattooed Lady Falls

What blooms from the end
of a needle? Numbness: a way
to stop time during my afternoon
rotation, the dry tented air trapped
in bubble-wrap, swaddling my near-

naked form. There are fast ways
to forget the crawling eyes, but I
have a better addiction: another
needle floods a bouquet of exploding

Touch-Me-Not twisting my arm,
punishing: skin is not an open
invitation, though I love to be
watched. I could cruise into edge-
of-town honkytonks, but one
late-August knife scarred La Sirena
of my forearm, learning my lesson.
I've only been looking for a sure-

mouthed man: for that I might swallow
the largest sword. Today, I caught the hungry
eye of a clown in the dusty setup—
sweaty roustabouts humping tent pegs,

bolting the tilt-a-whirl into the ground.
We stood still in the moldering shade
of the elephant truck, dew squishing
my toes. You're built like a violin,
he told me, leaning close. My snare
drum heart tapped a rapid, rhythmic
beat, echoing violent, even in retreat.

The Tattooed Lady Transforms

Slipping the leather seat, skin
squeaks, I sigh—my Claude
drags his pen and I settle in
for a long session, the needle
humming, stinging, so many
cleansing bees. His palm on
my back, a communion, inking
chains into gills. A tadpole,

sloshing this amniotic parlor:
me swaddled in Southern
gothic vocals, crumbling fiddle
made electric. How the pain
clarifies: it is a choice, a thing

made, created and re-created
to right. Claude tells his own first:
a wolf, and how he ran beers
for bikers until they gave him
a job. I picture him a lost boy,
so soft, his face clownwhite

then vanishing. Heat radiating,
morphing me aquatic, finger-
tips elongate to fins: feeling
my way the ocean, a juvenile,
full of promise. So many ways

to say hallelujah: the deep ache
of skin to be touched, the descant
of redemptive cover-ups, gasping
grace in empty spaces, the lack
only needles and ink can fill.

The Tattooed Lady Watches

The problem with me is my memory
is bad, rotten like forgotten pears, so
I slink into ink shops for permanent records,
a life rendered in skin. It's vanity, sure,

but it's also a living. To recall is to know
half the story—I am a wide-open
book. The problem with you is your
look-don't-touch: Braille's just bumps
until it's read, and one man's gospel
is another man's rag, so which am I

tonight? I watch you burning, oil-lamped
and trembling all night in your trailer,
marking a card deck, nursing highballs.
Pulling cigarettes from your ear,
you think you're alone with your naked
face. You're only bold in costume,

but what you have can be undone.
What you don't have could fill
at least a back, maybe twirl up over
a shoulder, coy clavicle snake, spilling
across a chest. What do you look like

underneath? I asked, thumb-smudging
your paint, but you pushed me away. I
could trace your palm on my shoulder,
broken outline, but an earlier version
of the same story is already there. Instead,
I echo you, first with paperclips, then
with needles, in and out, pricking.

The Tattooed Lady's Fear

Some day I'll run out of skin, the last
patch wasted on lotería icons or tiny
scraps of Edith Piaf lyric—some
fancy. I could keep an inch square
for the ultimate ink, the etching
at the end of the mind, but naked

spots burn like a bare bulb, so I
rush to cover what winks through
my dimmed bedside lamp. The little
pricks of pain comfort: I can
still wince, still feel at the end
of a shift in the tent of the living

wonders. Imagine my project
finished, the last tableau touched
up to perfect, final flourishes curling
around the Last Supper enjoyed
on my back, Latin prayers running
through seams left between life
after death and sideshow scenes.

Will I turn, then, to other surfaces,
tagging floodwalls, shaking aerosol
to free the paint, palming a marker
inside my frayed pocket? The perfect
and most flawed outlaw, my eyes
outlined in permanent mask? Or will I

roll inward, all scissors and paste,
magazine remnants collaging the panels
of my trailer? And what comes when
I have no story to tell—not even a fill

for that free spot in a two-dimensional
frame? No flaming mouth, hydrangea
eyes, your relentless, wormy hair?
My fellow bottomless pit, I see you
branding me across games of chance,
darting the chests of unmarked girls.