Poem: Tattoo

Poem: Tattoo

from our poet of the month, Naomi Shihab Nye

Getty/ fona2

"if you nodded at him, or not, / chattering words to / a patience prayer, over and over."


When I hear about “forgotten people” I think,
they are not forgotten by me.
I knew the man down the alley by the market
who dragged his leg. He was out there, smoking,
almost my whole life.

His blue tattered pants,
the small denim pouch like a pocket
around his neck.
It didn’t make sense,
but he was always smiling,
if you nodded at him, or not,
chattering words to
a patience prayer, over and over.
It sounded more like Aramaic than Arabic.
He seemed happier to drag somewhere,
the short stone wall under the trees,
than people who find it easy to get there.

On his arm, the tattoo of a skinny blue moon.
He said it was the moon people like least
so he was going to like it most. Fingernail
flicker, little boat, holy symbol
without the star. Are you going to get a tattoo?
he used to tease the kids. We all said, No!
But he is tattooed on my mind
since he disappeared.
He rises in the darkest sky.

Listen to Naomi read Tattoo:

Naomi Shihab Nye shared her insight with Spirituality & Health:

As a poet and a child who loved eccentricities in general, I have always kept my eyes tuned to the person-in-the-margins—the oddball—the one who doesn't mingle easily—the outcast. In my grandmother's Palestinian village, such people interested me very much. 

One of my dearest uncles, (or was he a cousin? Identities always seemed a bit blurred), fell into that category. He has appeared in more than one of my poems over the years and was always the person I would seek out first on my visits, to find out how he was doing. He was "famous for his laugh." Some said he suffered deep depression. To me he seemed like a comedian. I don't recall him having any tattoo. 

(Read more about Naomi's life of poetry in our re/VIEW featured in our November/December issue.)

"Tattoo" from The Tiny Journalist. © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye. BOA Editions, Ltd.,

Read more poems:

Deborah Anne Quibell's The Yellow Boat

Amanda Torroni's Little Lion, Roaming the Cold Golden

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