Poetry Sunday: Tattoo by Ted Kooser

I'll be honest. I've never really understood the attraction of tattoos. Maybe it's a generational thing. Certainly, the younger generation seems much more enamored of them than the old fogey generation of which I'm a part. But Ted Kooser puts his finger on one of the problems with tattoos; a tattoo that might look okay on taut young skin could have a different aspect altogether as that skin gets older and...ah...softer and looser. What do you think?


by Ted Kooser
What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.


  1. Beautiful poem, and definitely true! I only have 1 tattoo to keep passed loved ones close to me.
    It's a symbol for my grandfather, grandmother, my friend and my father who all passed away.

    I don't think about the future too much, I've learned that life can be over in a blink and I'm just living in the now :) That's why I have the tattoo.


    1. I think many people probably use tattoos as you do, Esther, to commemorate a person or an event that is important to them and I can understand the impetus for that even if it is not what I would do.

  2. I also am not a tattoo person.

    I like that poem. I think that it may say more about aging then “old tattoos do not look good. “

  3. I have to confess that I am a tad revolted by tattoos. As you say, it may be a generational thing, but why people would want to deface their bodies in this manner is quite beyond me, especially the ones who seem not to be content until almost every inch of skin is covered. If I were to make an honest confession, about discrimination I suppose, if I were still hiring people, the tattooed person would go to the bottom of my list instantly, my conclusion being that he or she was brain dead already!

    1. I can see how tattoos might become a hinge on which to hang discrimination. Maybe the tattooed person would be best advised to keep their tattoos under wraps!

  4. As I've mentioned, I am not a huge fan of poetry (although many of the ones you pick speak to me in some way) but one poet I've been intrigued by for years is Ted Kooser. Why? I wondered how a former insurance executive can end up becoming a poet laureate, and because he gives me the feeling that if I showed up at his house, he would show me his garden and then invite me in for some delicious refreshments. Anyway, the line "his heart gone soft and blue with stories" is what got me about this poem.

    1. He writes very down-to-earth poetry which leads me to think you may be right; he may be a very down-to-earth person.

  5. Yes, I am in the generation when only sailors and tough guys got tattoos. Good thing, because I am not fond of being stuck with needles. I got acupuncture for a while and even that was iffy. I like looking at tattoos on people though, especially the ones that cover a whole arm or some other body part. When a tattoo artist is a character in a book, I am usually drawn to that character.

  6. I have several tattoos, and all have special meanings and are mostly music-related. I always followed the same procedure with each: I decided on a design, then put it away for six months or so. If I still wanted it, the meaning was still important to me, then I got it. If not, it was tossed in the garbage.

    1. I think that way of thinking of tattoos is common for people of your generation, Sarah. My own daughter (also named Sarah!) has a tattoo that is meaningful for her.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver

Overboard by Sara Paretsky: A review

The Investigator by John Sandford: A review