The Sailor's Dog Tags
Finally, there is a lesson in drowning
mute-played by a panther, sizzled on
with a hotknife bottlecap by a
seaman’s turvy grip.
There were no smiles when this ink was laid
for its utility lies in the midnight depths.
The sailor’s dog tags; the last things checked
before getting zipped and shipped.
Used to be men were inked to become men,
before they’d gulped the sea.
Used to be ink held hope.
A pig on the knee safety at sea.
Cock on the right, never lose a fight.
The thing that said a man was not
to be fist shaken in a barroom
was a rooster on the right foot,
done for pennies, not in a tidy
body modification shop,
not in a mask-on-the-face,
rubber-gloves-on-hands tattoo emporium,
but in a spit-polish shack on Market Street,
a stone-kick double-shot from the Pacific,
a thousand cigarettes from Winnipeg and
three hundred beers from Halifax.
If ink is true, men are not.
Unfaithful to the last,
they take vows eventually.
Saloon heroics don’t do much
against a shitty diaper.
Coloured pecs don’t work on entropy.
Chest medals back shirt stains,
and meathooks know the wife’s thighs
and hair in equal measure.
He may steal a smoke now and then,
despite promising to heel them out.
Cuss words may run past his three
week moustache as he spanks the eldest
for a similar language infraction.
He may get loaded on cheap hooch,
swim bare-assed at the company party,
then deny everything the next day.
When a boy scrubs his
skinny-chinned peach fuzz,
a man offers a razor.
He knew this before he could
zip his fly; before ship’s sirens;
before any monkey-fist knuckle dock
pecker-freezing North Atlantic watch.
Holder of things that must get passed on.
Any man who can do what he was wired to.
Any man with a bone and panty remover,
any man who can push and grunt then cut and run.
Any man who can brook the life
he never wanted.
Tats don’t make a pride count.
30 years since the pinch and
the panther still foul-tongues
the days behind armhair thicket.
Maybe the way to outrun the indelible
is to take what was from what is
and hope there’s enough left for living.
Short of a straight-razor dig out
or a laser-burn meltdown,
the sleeves will be there,
available as needed for eyes;
Available, as occasions demand,
for lifting what needs to be lifted.
© Michael Gravel