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Mary Ellen Talley

They Ask Why Mother Has No Tattoo

They Ask Why Mother Has No Tattoo

In my son’s tell-all book
he will write that
he refused
to tattoo my arm with words
of Emily Dickinson
a word is dead
when it is said, some say
I say, it just begins
to live that day
for words change meaning
as promises sag
from sentiment to dread –
and he’ll write that
he always knew
there’s not much worth
listening –  to.

Emily always refused to end
a sentence
without an apron
covering her white dress
because she could never
get residue of alphabet
off the fatty pads
of her palms.

When if looking
over his shoulder
at remnants of his past
that I have saved,
my son rolls his eyes
at assuming bystanders
who expect his mother
to wear his tattoo,
he may mimic
Emily’s slight smile,
this being pagan
on their laundry list
of minor sins –
and still refuse to tattoo
his mother’s favorite words,
arguing in his defense

that he remembered hearing
from his mother
or an LA teacher
that the poet
walked Amherst streets
without pretensions,
wrote on shards of paper
tucked inside her pockets.

He would assert that doubt
is only true –
may coagulate judgment
since circumstance affirms
a myriad of words
or slants meaning
into smithereens
unless erasure is an option.
Such multi-tasking ink
may later creep
from skin and canvas
to his mother’s favored words
he may use as captions
when he writes
his memoir
of those never-tatted words.

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Mary Ellen Talley’s poems have most recently been published in Kaleidoscope and Peacock Journal as well as in recent anthologies, The Doll Collection, All We Can Hold poems of motherhood and Raising Lilly Ledbetter Women Poets Occupy the Workspace. She worked for many years with words and children as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) in Washington public schools.

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