Sunday, April 1, 2018

Rajiv Mohabir Helps Launch Our Tenth Year of the Tattooed Poets Project

It is amazing to me that we are in our tenth April, celebrating tattooed poets during National Poetry Month.

We're launching this year's parade of poets with a special contribution from Rajiv Mohabir!

Rajiv sent us two tattoos, beginning with this one, on his forearm:

He tells us:
"The square tattoo is in honor of my Aji, Gangadai Mohabir (my paternal grandmother) who mothered thirteen children in Guyana. It was a long-time tradition for people, and especially Bhojpuri women, to tattoos their husbands’ names on their forearms. There was a belief that people’s names held magic, that by using someone’s name you would disrespect them by giving their power away. My family’s naming traditions are mystical still, albeit changed somewhat.
Here’s a photo of my Aji’s tattoo:

My Aji tattooed her husband’s name (Sewdass) on her arm with and Om above it, so when people asked who her husband was—which seldom happened in the small village of Crabwood Creek—she would be able to show them. My Aja did not have my Aji’s name tattooed on his arm though.
Tattoos were thought to be important, signifying social standing. My tattoo is also in homage to this tradition of 'godna' and the Devanagari script says my ancestors’ names in four generations in the shape of a square. The names are Chandranarine, Sewdass, Mahabir, and Lachchman.
People ask why I don’t tattoo my own name on my arm. My answer is always 'It’s on my
skin—that’s my contribution.'
Rajiv also shared this tattoo:

Rajiv explained:
"Since this is so hetero-patriarchal and on my right arm (cosmologically significant for the masc energies of the body in Vedantic thought), I thought to balance out my energies by tattooing a lotus yantra with the word 'Ma' in the center to keep the women I descend from touching my heart. The left side of the body is believed to be the femme side. My mother was low-key offended that I didn’t have her on my arm. But I told her I have you all over my poems, which will exist longer than my skin. Did I mention that I’m a huge mama’s boy?"
Rajiv shared the following poem, which appears below in its original form in Guyanese Bhojpuri, followed by his translation:


godna walle ta bulawe
aur baja pe aike kantak leke
hathwa ke juk-juk kare hai
ho rama
hathwa ke juk-juk angrej mein hai
angrej deswa mein inglis bole
hamar paglapan bhulo lalana
ho rama
nu yack mein godna lagal saanwar,
hamar hath pe ii godna lagal,
aapan khandaan-chhap lagal
ho rama
tohar nam likhal hai pitrwa
aapan chamriya pe ajawa
gulaab kantak se nam nam likhal hai
ho rama
koi gaaye walle nahin rahi ohar
jab khoon nikal lage rahi, dard lage rahi
koi rahi nahin dardwa uthaiyeke
ho rama
Kaise bhulye aapan dukh-sukh bhala
kantak ke nisaanwa rahejai
hamar dohe gaayke bataihai
ho rama
kaun jaane hamar muluk
kahan kahan hai hamar gaon
galli galli ghumeli galli galliya
ho rama
kaun batawe kahan kahan pe
ghumeke hai, Rama Rahim ke khoj mein,
kaun bataihe hamar deswa andar hai
ho rama


You call the tattoo artist
to your door who comes with his needles
to poke your arm

ho Rama
His scoring your skin is in English
In English country speak English
forget my madness

ho Rama
In New York I mark my dark skin
on my arm I inked
the signature of my descent
ho Rama
Your name he wrote, dear ancestor
on my flesh, dear Aja
with a rose’s thorn he wrote your name
ho Rama
No singer played a folksong
when blood erupted and pain began
no song to ease the hurt
ho Rama
Who knows where my country is
where my village is
from gulley to gulley I roam
ho Rama
Who will tell me exactly where
I must wander, searching out Rama-Rahim
Who will tell me my nation is inside me
ho Rama

~ ~ ~

Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Tupelo Press 2017, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize) and The Taxidermist’s Cut (Four Way Books 2016, winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2017). In 2015 he was a winner of the AWP Intro Journals Award. His poetry appears and is forthcoming from journals like POETRY, New England Review, Kenyon Review, Quarterly West, and Prairie Schooner. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY and his PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of poetry at Auburn University. To read more of his work, visit

A hearty thank you to Rajiv for his contribution and his participation in the Tattooed Poets Project on Tattoosday!

This entry is ©2018 Tattoosday. The poem and tattoos are reprinted with the poet's permission.

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