Kelly White

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From: A Field Guide to Northern Tattoos:

The Glow-in-the-Dark

Description: A typically large tattoo usually located on an intimate body part such as the lower abdomen, breast, inner thigh, or buttock.

Voice: Whispering but insistent.

Habitat: Particularly common in young women of a certain loneliness, perhaps a single mother or recently divorced forty-year-old.

Nesting: May be combined with another tattoo, particularly if applied to a more public area such as the shoulder, upper arm, or back. For example, a glow in the dark snake may nest with a skull. Alternative, a glow in the dark skull may be found superimposed on a rabbit's foot or poker hand. In a surprise twist Jesus might emerge under black light from a sacred heart or the beloved’s name be revealed beneath a cupid with bow.

Range: Beware, may appear in surprising places such as your daughter just home from college when you check on her asleep in her childhood bed after spring break or on your proper church aunt during a power outage in the parish hall. Co-workers may congregate in a closet to share excitement with a new design after a friend returns from vacation. And even the nicest girl you meet on a date may have ‘Here comes Johnny’ above her navel when you get her in the dark.

The name is occasionally inappropriate as some can be revealed under black light in near dark conditions. No “glow in the dark” tattoo ink has been approved by the FDA. Such inks contain phosphors which may be cancer-causing substances. Radioactive substances are also reportedly added to some inks that are available overseas (to make phosphors more visible and retain more energy, or light, you must add a radioactive substance of some sort.) It is advised to ‘just say no’ to true glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Blacklight reactive tattoos may be approved for use and may, let me repeat, may, be safe. I don’t even want to begin to think about using lasers for removal.


Pediatrician Kelley White worked in inner city Philadelphia and now works in rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA.  Her most recent books are Toxic Environment (Boston Poet Press) and Two Birds in Flame (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.