Love Tattoo

By David Clisbee

I was a seventh grader. She was an eighth grader.  I was 5 foot 7 while wearing combat boots. ImageShe stood 5 foot 10 barefoot. My dorky hair cut didn’t part as much as it flopped.  She wore long blonde hair that glistened and bounced as she walked.  As she walked, her boobs moved in sync with her hips.  She had great boobs and could spike a volleyball so hard it’d break your nose in no time flat.  I had itty-bitty dude boobs, thighs wider than my waist, and didn’t really understand the hows and whys of volleyball player rotation. I wasn’t sure of a lot. ImageLike, I wasn’t sure what Shannon saw in me, but she saw something, so I asked no questions. But, I was sure of a couple things.  I was sure we would make it.  So was she.  This shared belief was the numero uno thing we had in common.  Numero two was our love of slow dancing to Guns N Roses “November Rain” at school dances.  And that week was the week of the St. Regis dance.   On the telephone, we’d talked about the importance of requesting our song. We’d been together six months. We so, so, so had a song.

The night before that dance, pure certainty guided my hand as I carved her seven-letter name into the flesh just above my left ankle.  I’d plotted the action out all week.  I’d thought about how I’d do it during math and English and science and religion and soccer practice and showering and walking home and eating dinner with my folks.

After dinner the night I went through with it, I sat on the edge of my bed and mulled over my decision. I stared at my bedroom walls I’d decorated with Rolling Stone covers of Green Day, Kurt Cobain, the Smashing Pumpkins and everybody else who’d gotten on the cover since 1992.  I stared at the famous.  The famous stared back at me.  We agreed, “Do it, dude.”

Broken tip pocket knife: check.

Bic lighter for sanitizing said knife: check.

Old t-shirt for wiping away blood: check.

“November Rain” cued on my tape deck: check, check.

I pressed play.


The S took a solid ten minutes.  I breathed deeply. I pierced skin.  A thin ribbon of red spilled.  I steadied my hand. More slow breathing.  I didn’t want to faint.  More red ran and ran down to my big toe where it dripped on to the old t-shirt.  I kept the knife tip from going to deep.  Slow breathing.  Axle Rose sang, “When I look into your eyes.”  I thought of Shannon and I dancing in front of all the other suckas in the St. Regis gym.

The S was rough and angular and bleeding bright red. I continued.  I winced. I bled.  I navigated the knife tip’s depth up the curve of my anklebone.  I made sure not to cut too deep while doing the H and A and N and N and O and N. The seven letters of her name measured roughly two inches.  My flesh was red and raw and beginning to scab. Her name on my skin looked like maybe I’d hired a serial killer to mark me.  Still, her name was spelled correctly.

We’d been at the dance about half an hour.  Nobody was dancing, just kids from our school and other Catholic schools milling around.  Everybody mingled within their grade: seventh graders with seventh graders, eighth graders with eighth graders.  I was dating a smoking hot eighth grader. I mingled with whomever and wherever Shannon and I decided.

After badmouthing our math teacher and the concept of math class altogether, I said, “Let’s go get a coke.”

“I’m good,” she said.

“Let’s go get a coke,” I said.

She raised her eyebrows.

We stopped just outside the bathrooms.

I took a deep breath.

She wet her lips.

“I wanna show you something,” I said.

“Huh?” she said.

I leaned against the wall.  I lifted up my leg.  I pulled down my sock to reveal her name in all of its reddish-brown scabbed-over glory.

“What the fuck?” Shannon said.

She leaned forward.  She stood back fast and shook her head.  “Did you do that with a….knife?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said in a smug, tough guy tone.

Shannon just looked at me like she was frozen.

One of the last songs of the night was my request, “November Rain.”  Shannon had been talking with some of the girls on the volleyball team. IWSDCar I approached. The girls stopped talking.  I asked if she wanted to dance. The girls stared at me.  I looked at Shannon.

Hand in hand, we made our way to the center of all the other slow dancing couples.  I put my hands on her hips.  She put her arms around my shoulders, wove her fingers together at the nape of my neck.  We leaned into each other.  I could smell the strawberry gum she always chewed.  She leaned down, put her head on my shoulder.  We danced slower than usual because my ankle hurt.  I didn’t really know what she thought of her name carved into my ankle. I figured it wasn’t good. I just listened to our song and kept my hands on her hips.

David Clisbee’s poems have appeared in Ninth Letter and International Poetry Magazine.  His first chapbookBotched Heroics was released by RockSaw Press in 2009.  He lives in Mankato, MN with Diana, and their wiggly son, Teddy.  His favorite color is red.  His dogs are black.