Poetry Archive

The Other Tattoo


i first saw it
after a nurse scanned
my mother’s skin
under a blue light
searching for a vein
to insert a new lifeline
where illness
swelled her arms
and hands as she laid

i already knew
my father’s last name
inked on one hand
though i never asked
when how or where
she got it did she hide it
from her mother
did her mother find out
and disapprove

my mother who told me
not to wear make-up
questioned the length
and fit of my skirt
even though old photos revealed
a woman who wore cherry red
lipstick on full lips and strutted
long-legged in cut off shorts

now the doctors search
for clues and a cause
was it the cancer
that returned
or the ailments
stacked against her
in this moment

of stillness and searching
i notice another tattoo
i look close to read
letters that perhaps were
once black, now faded green
and i imagine

someone other than
the woman i’ve known
all of my life
but only part of hers
and i want more time 

to know her
the woman she was
before any expectations to be
more than who she wanted to be

i want more time
to know the woman
with another tattoo

her own blessed name
on her body

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy Raising Mothers, please consider making a one-time or recurring contribution to help us remain ad-free. If even a fraction of subscribers signed up to contribute $1 per month, Raising Mothers could be self-sustaining!

Support Raising Mothers
Filed under: Poetry Archive


Jenise Miller is a mother, urban planner, and writer from Compton. She is a Pushcart-nominated poet and Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) alumna. Her writing about Compton, Watts, and growing up in Los Angeles' Panamanian community is featured in her poetry chapbook "The Blvd," as well as in the LA Review of Books, KCET Artbound, Boom California, Cultural Weekly, Dryland Literary Journal, the Acentos Review, and PANK Magazine. You can find her on IG/Twitter @jenisepalante.