Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Issue Thirty-five
Summer 2014
 
THE TATTOOS OF IRAQI CIVILIANS, 2007
Paul David Adkins

Not rifles etched on the forearms.
Not Ba’ath Party emblems
inked on the shoulders
or sinew of necks.

Not God
is Great
,
or Fuck the Sunnis.

Not a single
image of Imam Hussein.

No
eagle or flag. No
face of a girl. No
Sura and verse. But

names, instead. Their own
long names injected
beneath pectorals,

etched onto the smalls of the back,
lining trim obliques
like black zippers.

Not art. Just
names. Hot black ash rubbed hard
into razor calligraphy.

For when
the bombs went off in the markets,
and the masked soldiers lifted
in their blue-gloved hands

the appendage-less corpses

the headless corpses

the corpses
halved
or quartered,

lugged them in trash bags
to the ambulances,
the taxis,
the lorries commandeered
to haul that carnage away.

Or when
the murderous gangs
disappeared people
from streets, and dumped them
three days later
one by one

footless

handless

decapitated and nude as Ken dolls
onto dusty roads
and Baghdad trash fields
green with weeds,
jeweled with flies the size of signets.

At least

the families would know
their fate by the names

etched in the torsos,
carved on their sides;

would spot the ash-tattoos
visible in the bright,
rank, icy morgue rooms – tattoos

raised and perfectly
visible. Across
each washed and cold abdomen,
crossing the low-slung ribs
like centipedes,

those names.
Those scrolled, black braille scarrings
stroked and stroked by the mothers.

About Paul David Adkins

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