Poems from

Upon Asking the Cashier at Kroger to Scan That Old Tattoo of a Barcode on My Forearm

Turns out my body’s a dollar sweet potato
her register’s screen said, as she lifted

her scanner, and I laughed. I can finally call myself
Garnet, Georgia Jet, Carolina Red. Those names

of tubers—my accidental totems. So many
varieties. I might slather

my arm in marshmallows, burrow
deep into the Southern earth. I’d gotten

the tattoo at nineteen, drunk, after Alicia and I
sneaked into the Jefferson—the fanciest

hotel in Richmond with its old
Deco fountain in the lobby

where pet alligators swam circles
through the Jazz Age. We sat on velveteen

love seats wearing ripped jeans among the suits
of Virginia politicians and Baptist preachers,

daring each other: I’ll get a tattoo
if you do. We discussed passion

vines on biceps or matching dragonflies
winging our asses. I swirled my plastic

flask’s bourbon, decided we’d make
a statement about consumerism—blue

barcode stamped on each of our forearms.
After the hotel manager kicked us out

for vagrancy I tore a page from a book
of grocery-store coupons so the tattoo artist

would have an image to copy: a barcode’s
exact marks. I didn’t think to stop

and choose which vegetable,
which object, didn’t know my body

would soften beneath the lines. Ten years
later I’d finally ask a woman

to scan the ink, wondering why
I’d waited this long to find out

I’ve always been sweet but slightly
twisted, I’ve always been

waiting to disappear like this,
bite by bite, into someone’s mouth.

 

reprinted from Narrative

 

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