Tattooed*

*a burlesque poem.


my brother has the words
“this is not for you” tattooed
across the upper left side of his chest.

my first love is immortalized
by a swallow taking flight
on the back of my neck
because i read once that
if you love something,
you set it free.

free, was the last word i would use
to describe the pain that came
from being “single”
after years of being an “us”.

free, is the last word I’d use
to describe the anguish that came
when the floodgates opened
and the tears couldn’t start pouring.

“this is not for you”, is what I say
when people ask about the rocket ship
emblazoned on my wrist. Straight lines
that form a rudimentary shape, ink that bled
into the veins linked to heart.
It wasn’t for you or the myriad rocket ships
you drew across notebooks that I had
long gotten rid of.

I tell them that it’s a reminder
to shoot for the stars
and go, full speed ahead,
to achieve the dreams that others say
are “childish”.

It is.

It is a reminder that you gave me
the chance to be everything I could
when you wouldn’t ask me to stay
and when you couldn’t let me go.

It is a reminder that you
are not the sum total of my dreams
and that heartache is another word
for “going ahead”.

“This is not for you”, and it wasn’t.
It was for me. It was all for me,
and everyday forward
is another tattoo of my past.


burlesque poem is one that treats a serious subject matter as humor. I’m not sure there is anything in the world more serious than heartbreak.

This piece first appeared on Medium, published in Poetry in Form. You can find more of my writing @CharlleyThen

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2 thoughts on “Tattooed*

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