The Jungle Tattoo

The man who lived in this apartment before me
painted the walls jungle green so they would look
like the deep round “O” of a forest pool in shade,

but really they remind me of the man himself,
who, upon handing me the keys, had said
he had lived there ten years, alone,

that the neighbors were quiet,
but few of them friendly,
and I should keep to myself,

then had turned down the hall, revealing,
through the cotton white lucidity of his shirt,
a back covered by the tattoo of a tiger

whose black eyes stared out
from a tapestry of jungle vines,
emerald embroidered branches,

snakes like strings of topaz slithering
away as if slithering along with the man
down the white florescent-lit hall.

And I want to ask him now, as I sit on the couch,
rubbing my thumb over the needy brown upholstery
watching lights go out

in the darkness I have inherited,
if there is something that made him need to cover
nakedness, like loneliness, in color.

At what point in his ten years alone
did he decide on that tattoo?
Was it in a moment like this,

when night’s charcoal shadow was closing,
like a hand, over the yellow light of lately lit apartment windows,
and the walls were going black,

in spite of the color, that he went
to have his body pricked by a solid reminder
that something could exist in absence?
That the dark unholiness of a body,
with its isolated, heavy-metal sting of solitude,
purple-bruises, and blood-dark songs could also be

the dark web of trees, a river, red flowers, green leaves spread
so wide they might shelter things, like dew drops and pollen,
the rock-round back of beetles, waking in the dark to flap

their wings through the heartless black, unafraid, so that when he would fall
back into himself, alone, in this room, he would land,
like that tiger, two paws dug into the solid earth, able

to look up through the lucid green embroidery
of the jungle’s never sleeping leaves, to find
even the inside of himself, still illuminated by stars.

Originally published in BloodLotus