I come round from my faint less than half-way
through the moment being marked into my skin.
The tattooist yawns and passes me a glass of water;
my younger sister squeezes my hand and steadies me
with her calmness, as she did during my long labour.

Bicycle falls scar my knees but that c-section
was my first scalpel and stitching. My sister’s braced
me through the worst cuts, even a forked lifeline
on my palm from a red wine bottle that smashed
on Gran’s stone floor when I was still a toddler.

Although I’m older, she’s lived far more than me,
is armed with a small collection of inked charms.
The tattooist revs up his machine again, scrapes pain into
(and out of?) my left shoulder bared to the sharp
100-watt light and hot room, tightening around us.

I’ve asked for a tawny owl on a moonlit branch
fleshed with green leaves – wisdom, flight and hope
that hasn’t rotted or broken away from the tree.
Wings that haven’t lost their wide span
or feathered grace, but can, in a single heartbeat,

reach across the ocean now between us.

Meet the Poet

Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Winner of the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2020 and CP Aware Award Prize for Poetry 2021, her collection Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic is forthcoming in 2022. Website: http://www.sarah-james.co.uk. She also runs V. Press, publishing poetry and flash fiction.

One response to “‘Living Ink’ by Sarah James”

  1. […] poem Living Ink – all tattoos have a story behind them! – published on Fragmented Voices in March […]