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Poem of the Week: 'Tattoo' by Nuala Ní Chonchúir


My body is a palimpsest
under your hands,
a papyrus scroll
unfurled beneath you,
waiting for your mark.
I clean my skin,
scrape it back to
a pale parchment,
so that your touch
can sink as deep
as the tattooist’s ink,
and leave its tracery
over the erased lines
of other men.

You are all that’s
written on my body.

For me, what’s so brilliant about this poem is how unashamed of its emotions it is. The feelings are so raw, reminiscent of teenage heartbreak, rendering the speaker a young, vulnerable woman. She does not shy away from her emotions. When I first read it, I interpreted it as a love poem, to a present lover, someone the speaker sees a future with. However, in the anthology it is taken from, Ní Chonchúir goes on to explain that it was written soon after a horrible breakup, making it all the more poignant, and the desperation for some tangible, permanent mark of the man she has left behind. Although half the joy of reading poetry is taking a personal interpretation, it’s always fascinating to see what the poet was thinking at the time, and Ní Chonchúir’s explanation of her feelings at the time adds a new level of interest to an already-beautiful poem. It is also interesting to see her opinion on tense, as in retrospect, using the present tense makes it far less permanent than the past, ironically.

This poem is taken from The Deep Heart's Core, an anthology of Irish poets revisiting their own poems, and which is available for purchase on our website here.

Blog entry by Clemmie Joly

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