Monday, April 16, 2012

The Tattooed Poets Project: Ira Sukrungruang

Today's tattooed poet is Ira Sukrungruang. Before checking out his tattoo, here’s what Ira had to say about ink:
"I thought if I held off until I was thirty, it meant I really wanted a tattoo. It meant that I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo since I was fifteen and waited nearly fifteen years to finally have one done. I’m a guy who wants things, and sometimes my wants are fleeting, like a child with a new toy; after an hour of play, I’m bored.
But after that one tattoo—an enormous dragon on my right calf—I’ve been getting a tattoo done every year, and I love every one of them. 
My tattoos are a way to call attention to my body on my own terms. For most of my life, I was fat. When I got my first tattoo, I was close to four-hundred pounds, and I wanted people to look at me because of my tattoo, not because I was enormous. I think long and hard about my tattoos. I have a total of five, and I’m thinking about getting another one done soon. All my tattoos have stories, and because they have stories, I wanted a tattoo artist who I not only trusted, but was a close friend, a person who would do what I wanted, and share in my life. My artist is the poet Ruth Awad, and I can say with certainty, she is the best. 
I don’t give Ruth easy tattoos. On average, my tattoos take about 4-10 hours to complete. Because I am Thai-American, my tattoos reflect my dual life. It is my way of paying homage to my culture, my parents, my life as a Buddhist. There is one tattoo, however, I love most. It was the simplest one. It took only two hours to complete. It is the image of Buddha on my chest. 
I used to wear a Buddha around my neck at all times. I was never without him. When I was nervous, I chewed on him. When I was scared, I’d grasp him tight in my hand. My mother gave me my Buddha. She said to keep him close to my heart. He would protect me. For most of my life, I had. Suddenly, I developed a skin allergy. I broke out in hives and rashes. I was allergic to Buddha! To fix this, to always have him with me, I decided to have Buddha tattooed on my chest. He is the first thing I see every morning and the last thing every night. There is a comfort in that. Seeing him there, in a jungle of chest hair, makes me feel lighter."

Ira shared this poem with us, which first appeared in Mead Magazine, under the title "In the Keeping of Men":

Sleeping Venus

               “To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space,                                              into the keeping of men.” –John Berger, Ways of Seeing

I am learning to see, letting light dance
within my retinas, letting it slosh
around orbed-pupils, like an aerating wine.

There walked a woman today, at the grocery
store, who turned the heads of the meat men behind
refrigerated steaks. How they devoured
her elegant stride. How her presence was body
without mind. They will remember her—only
briefly—as the one with long legs, the one with gracious
hips, and she will be catalogued
away with infinite others, a forever list
of parts.

Giorgione, when you painted Venus, reclined,
her hand seductively positioned above her groin,
what dreams did you give her? Did you fill
her head with the scent of olives and Tuscan
suns? Does painter and subject occupy
the same breath?

My wife sits alone
in her room, the night air
laden with grief,
a guitar on her lap. How do I paint
her voice and the sound of pluck chords? How do I
capture the beating within her chest,
the sad song singing in her heart?

I am learning to see.
First, I close my eyes.

 ~ ~ ~

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoir Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy.  His poems have been published in North American Review, Witness, River Styx, and many other journals. He teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida and is the editor of Sweet: A Literary Confection. For more information about him, visit:

Thanks to Ira for sharing his tattoo and poetry with us here on Tattoosday!

This entry is ©2012 Tattoosday. The poem and tattoo are reprinted with the poet's permission. 

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