Branded, by Joseph Mills

As we drive to the grocery, my daughter asks,
Daddy, Does it hurt to be branded?
Since we had been talking about lemonade
and whether the pink kind tastes different
than the yellow, the question surprises me.
Of course, I say, and she wants to know
how I know and how it’s done and why
someone would do it to someone else.
She’s been reading Chains, whose heroine
gets branded on the cheek, so we talk
about hot metal, scars, the half moon
on her calf from a car’s exhaust pipe.
We talk about skin and how it heals
but remains marked forever, and how
even words from a story or a book
or a classmate can sear and disfigure.
We talk about how branding is different
than tattoos, why people would do either,
and the difference between being forced
and choosing to do something. We talk
about what you carry on your body
for life, and, what kind of a tattoo
we would get. We talk about whether
this is different than what you get
on your tombstone. She asks what
can be written on bones, and we discuss
archaeology and cemetery graves,
and then suddenly she says she thinks
pink probably doesn’t taste different,
but the eye makes you think that it does.

A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills has published four collections of poetry with Press 53:  Sending Christmas Cards to Huck and Hamlet; Love and Other Collisions; Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers; and Somewhere During the Spin Cycle.  His fifth collection, This Miraculous Turning, will be released in September 2014.  More information about him is available at and he blogs somewhat regularly at

Joseph pic


  1. This poem is so cool. I couldn’t stop reading.

  2. Jennifer Stewart says:

    I agree with Rosalyn Marhatta. I could not stop reading either and didn’t want the poem to end. I worked as a massage therapist for over ten years. During that time, I saw many different types tattoos and branding. Scars of all shapes and sizes. The teaching therapists receive in school is once the session has started, keep communication to a minimum. The only questions asked should relate to correct pressure, location of discomfort, and breathing. There were many times I wanted to ask the meaning of certain tattoos as I glided my hands over their artwork. I wanted to know the story behind that scar. When my eyes would see a scar, branding, or maybe I didn’t see it first and my hands would sense a change in tissue structure, I slowed my tempo and my hands moved cautiously over the area. Being mindful. I wondered if feeling my touch over their tattoo, or branding, or scars would bring back memories. This made me realize we are all warriors. Fighting our own battles and surviving.


  1. […] Khar, Rebecca Cook. Poetry by Dave Landsberger, Yaddyra Peralta, John Sibley Williams, Joseph Mills, Katharyn Howd Machan, and Patrick […]

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