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In the morning rush at the coffee shop,

I flew in behind a woman with a Shakespeare tattoo:

his famous face engraved on her right bicep. Only, this version

was lined with Maori tattoos, so the upstart crow looked fiercer

than usual. It was a beautiful cross pollination of memes,

and for the briefest of moments, it made me desire

to turn myself into a work of walking art, but even as I hungered,

I was swept back thirty years before,

weathering basic at Ft. Leonard Wood in winter.

On the night my platoon finished the training cycle,

I planned my tattoo: I knew

what I wanted: two dragons locked

in a deadly embrace — or some such myth

inscribed into my flesh. Instead

my drill sergeant put me in charge,

ordered me stay put, wait for the drunks, so they not drown in their own vomit;

wait for the walking tattoos, so I could write them up.

It was a night in the innermost circle of hell.

As each sorry soldier dragged himself home,

I and the few unlucky would haul the staggering sot

upstairs for an icy shower and a tattoo inspection. All night:

puke, cursing, bad tattoos:

daggers and pistols and bleeding hearts wrapped in barbed wire.

In the end, nothing worth looking at. By morning

I was cured of any desire. Back in the coffee shop,

the woman with Will on her shoulder turns: we lock eyes,

and I see that she sees me watching her

from my safe port while she seems to wave back, without regret

for all that the adventure offers as she spirits away

into a freshening wind.

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David Holper

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