The Tattoo Artist

Jose Hernandez Diaz

For Michael “Yeser” Perez

A man in a Rage Against the Machine shirt learned to tattoo after a career as a painter. As a painter, he painted mostly surrealism. As a tattoo artist, he tattooed reality: the streets. He tattooed dead homies, loving parents, and hopeful children. Portraits of the people who mattered the most to folks in his neighborhood. The man in a Rage Against the Machine shirt was finished being an apprentice. He learned for two years from one of the best tattoo artists in the city.

Now, it was his first day as a full-time tattoo artist. His assignment was to tattoo a portrait of a client’s parents onto a shoulder. The photograph he tattooed from was from the 1970s. The man in a Rage Against the Machine shirt started with an outline and then filled it in. He used subtle colors and stark outlines. When he finished, he showed his client the tattoo of his Mexican parents before they came to the States, and they were stoked. His first tattoo was a complete success. Tomorrow, he would tattoo St. George slaying a dragon with a medieval sword.

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020) and Bad Mexican, Bad American (Acre Books, 2024). He is an editor and educator in Southeast Los Angeles County.