Tattoos Poem by Sheena Blackhall


Rating: 5.0

Otzi The Iceman, murdered in 3,500 BC
Shot with an arrow, bludgeoned to death
Had 61 tattoos, like a human tapestry

His skin was cut in lines and xs
Charcoal, rubbed into the wounds
An early form of acupuncture?

2,500 years ago a Ukok princess was buried
Beneath the Siberian ice beside two warriors,
Her bodyguards going onto the next world
Her certainties, unsullied

She will always be 25, with complex tattoos on her shoulder
Ukok royalty had matching marks, an early identification marker?

Herodotus noted down in fifth-century Greece,
A tattoo was the stamp of a slave or criminal
A sign of the human drugs, brutal and feral

Thracian women tattooed themselves,
Were called Mad Women or The Raving Ones
Decorating their legs, arms, necks
A cult, claiming supernatural powers
Silhouettes of animals -deer and snakes

Crusaders and pilgrims were inked
As souvenirs of their trips to the Holy Land
Holy, hallowed, distinct

Coptic Christians tattooed the Jerusalem cross on their arms.
To show their religious belief, one step up from charms

Tribal tattoos, with waves and lines, is the Maori style,
Where each one tells a story.
Their facial tattoos show status and family history

17th century sailors first adopted tattooing
Bound needles together, dipped in a mixture of ink and gunpowder
While all the while, the boat rocked back and forth
Out on the open sea, with many a blunder

An anchor denoted the sailor had crossed the Atlantic
A lucky man or a skilful navigator
A dragon meant the sailor had been to China.
A turtle meant the sailor had crossed the equator.

A superstitious seaman bore tattoos
As talismen to guard him against drowning.
A pig and rooster on opposite feet were common
(as neither animal swims) .
The sailors hoped those symbols would be life saving

Of the thousand years-old tattoo style of batok,
Tapping an ink-dipped thorn into the skin
Apo Whang-Od was the last surviving master
Up to 100 times a minute taught from mother to daughter

The Chiribaya were a pre-Inca culture
Several mummies have been discovered
Tattooed with scroll work, birds, apes, reptiles, circles
Made with soot for healing or scared rituals

An ancient Egyptian female mummy
Was covered in lotus blossoms, cows, baboons,
And "wadjet eyes", a symbol to ward off evil glowers
Her tattoos stretched over her hips, arms, back, and neck.
She was an important figure with religious powers

Amunet, the tattooed priestess of Hathor
Was put on earth to protect women through childbirth
The drifting sands of time covered her worth

The Tarim female mummies of China
Were adorned with crescent moons,
Owls and scroll patterns. A sign of Goddess worship.
A male had sun tattoos upon his temple
The two may have been shamans to their people

So, if you chose to become one of the tattooed?
Which methods of skin imprinting d'you think would suit?
Western electric instruments that buzz like bees?
Japanese Buddha ivory needles? Burmese pointed sticks?
Or amateurs wielding pins and soot?

Today, tattoos are seen as very chic
David Beckham has 60 tattoos,
With a ship under his right armpit
Which could be described as unique

Katy Price has a pony galloping up her leg
Miley Cyrus seected a dream catcher
Paris Jackson has seven chakras
Justin Bieber's skin is the canvas
For a giant rose

But beware. Skin stretches and sags
Wrinkles and blurs and may be too overabundant
And the heart and arrow naming your current squeeze
May soon be redundant


Very good. Dear poet, you have done a lot of research on the history of tattoos. Loved it. (Continued)

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M. Asim Nehal 17 May 2023

Informative and interesting piece. Liked it and 5****

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Rajan T Renganathan 17 May 2023

I hate Tattoos, whatever be the history behind it but to me it is nothing more than show-off and arrogance. Nice miniscule details. Full ****

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Dr Dillip K Swain 16 May 2023

The sailors hoped those symbols would be life saving....blind beliefs and superstions do still exist in our society though the modern civilization is miles and miles away from conventional superstitious beliefs! Your poem speaks a lot about tattoos...liked it.

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6) As Ramayanam is said to be 12000 years old, this would have been the ver first tattooes in history

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5) … tattooed on the body of Indra, the maniac.

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4) When the sage came to know this, he cursed Indra that Indra shall have a thousand yonis (vaginas) all over his body. I tend to believe that the sage had got a thousand vaginas tattooed

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3) When Indra failed to seduce Ahalya, he appeared before her as her husband Sage Gautama and formicated with her.

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2) But you seem to have missed one story (so I think) from India. In Ramayanam, you will find the story of Ahalya and Sage Gowtama

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