Temporary Tattoo

Beside the cash register in my favorite used bookstore
I see a glass bowl of what seem to be postage stamps
until I look closer: temporary tattoos of red and green,

with ornate black lettering Bruised Apple Books.
Take one, says Andrew, Take two, as if he directs a film
about the struggle of an independent bookseller

and his aging clientele, some of them tattooed
in the Summer of Love, some of them tattooed
by surgery, or time. I take one

although I know a temporary tattoo
is oxymoronic, maybe just plain moronic,
something else the world does not need,

as no one needs the leather-bound collected Thackeray
or the first-edition Joy of Sex inscribed Love,
from Guess Who?
A tattoo should be permanent,

a commitment, a cross-hatched cobra coiled
around the biceps, inks of deep blue and green
like the veins that pop from the carney’s arm

when he makes a fist. A tattoo should not
smear, dissolve with baby-oil-on-tissue,
should be bold as a snake swallowing a mouse

and the mouse-shape traveling the length of it
like a bad idea shaping a life, distorting a life.
The apple is pink-red, like the tip of a cigarette,

its single leaf the green of the 1964 Chevy convertible
on cinder blocks behind the bookstore,
a car that will never run

despite the young man who works
under the hood every night until dark.
Someone should go to him and tell him

the sum is not always greater than its parts.
Sometimes the parts are what is valuable,
what can be parlayed into a life.

Tell him sell the tires, sell the wheels.
Tell him there is not enough light in all of his days
to spend evenings with his back to the stars,

staining his hands with grease and oil.
Someone should give him the tattoo
of the bruised apple, which will last

a week, at best. Tell him the Chevy’s time
has come and gone, that nothing lasts forever
except our desire for things to last forever.

But he is too young to know this,
and nothing can convince him this is true.
Nothing written in any of these books

can show him what his strong hands
seem to show as they fold the oily rag
and drop the hood on another day

and in the gravel lot behind the bookstore
the last of the sun shines
pink, and everywhere, and always.

:: Suzanne Cleary, in Ploughshares (winter 2007-08)

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