Donna knows her grandmother will die in a year or ten.
What then, will anyone remember the numbers
tattooed on her arm?
Donna keeps a picture of Maya on her phone,
the wan smile, the brave lean on a wooden cane,
another of her arm.
Maya’s left arm could be a psalm of life lines.
Blue veins ripple down, brown spots count her decades,
then a row of digits livid there.
For the years she was known by their name.
Maya’s not a silent martyr, she’s told her story.
She knows the arc of human cruelty is scored in flesh.
Pubescent girls razoring their thighs.
Their bodies breached by tribal elders.
Boys stippling their skin for the brag, the clique, the swagger.
Donna knows how Hitler’s kampf seared Maya’s heart;
she wants to coax an art of living out of death cults.
She’s seen exuberant dragons on the backs of men.
Ankhs on the ankles of friends, love in the names of their lovers.
She’s briefly uncertain;
Bob Flanagan drove nails through his penis on the altar of art.
As if Christ were modeling an aesthetic.
As if the human condition is suffering,
Marina Abramovic asks her fans to wound her.
As if pain has no memory. Donna needs her numbers vivid and indelible.
In Venice, CA, a beach city named for beauty and foolishness,
she wanders a boardwalk clotted like a carnival.
Tucked among the mummers, the homeless, the sunglass vendors,
she finds the tattoo shacks she’s looking for,
scans the skulls and signage on their walls.
Feels a pinch of longing, for a perfect rose, a small heart
in the fold behind her knee her Mom won’t see.
Feels a twinge of guilt.
Leviticus forbids it; Maimonides named it idolatry.
She scours Hollywood, Broadway, Silver Lake, spends hours
seeking gravitas, clean needles.
She chooses Jason, the Van Gogh of body art, praised by clients
with subversive names she whispers into his ear,
but Jason needs no explanations, he’s put chains on angels.
A row of numbers of a certain size, a dated font, a girl’s arm.
Donna pulls her sleeve back, shows her grandmother her new tattoo.
Maya weeps—What have you done, child? What have you done?
Florence Weinberger is the author of four published collections of poetry, “The Invisible Telling Its Shape”, “Breathing Like a Jew”, “Carnal Fragrance”, and “Sacred Graffiti”; another forthcoming. Four times nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her poetry has appeared in literary magazines including “The Sow’s Ear”, “Solo”, “Rattle”, “River Styx”, “Miramar”, “Nimrod”, “Calyx”, and “The Los Angeles Review”, as well as numerous anthologies.