By Rhys Wilkinson
January 17, 2024
Ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer…
–Rainer Maria Rilke
DESIRE // 2018
It’s my night’s quietest hour and I’m loud inside, loud and in love. I think it’s love, anyway; it’s hard to tell when you’ve only been in one genuine relationship and a couple fake ones with grown men online. But real sex cuts through the noise, and it’s a nice change of pace to have company from someone tangible, someone with a face, someone warm. Someone else who’s sixteen.
There’s something about sex that unsettles me, though, a distressing sensory disconnect: it feels nice but looks better. Or rather, I look better than I feel, which means the pedophiles are at least partially right about me: my expressive efforts merit an audience. Hormonal and young, I return often to drink from their well of wisdom. I’ve got little to lose, because it’s 2018 and I think I might die soon or be a girl. Ashamed, I set to work loving life less and my man— and manhood— more.
Despite the ease by which I’m viewed and touched, I set aside one privacy: my journal. I appropriate a lemon-hued composition book which smells subtly of zest and sweat and start spending hours alone with it in my bedroom, pencil grip gentle but firm — as instructed. An orchard grows from a single fruit, and I begin taking frequent refuge in the notebook’s shade, sheltered and unseen by all but the occasional insect.
The pages swell with philosophies, escape plans, poetry, puke. Laborious, libidinous, I experiment nightly with expression, relaxing into the process. Nothing keeps a teenager from their diary for long. I envy the moldy lemons for decaying, having never been food. I write them into existence and take pleasure in watching them wither, unwanted. Words, like boys, can be hungered for and tasted.
Soon enough, my eye for beauty grows predatory and transactional, and I cede my once-peaceful orchard. I begin treating my diary like a manuscript; I start sentences with “you might imagine” and daydream about leaving it in a bookstore for some lucky lover to find. Wouldn’t that be charming? Lord knows I’ve done worse than a bibliophile. I conjure aphids into my last creative sanctuary and imagine them consuming the lemons I’ve grown. Unwittingly, I graft an ethos of sex as consumptive onto art.
Maybe it could’ve been avoided if I’d written and fucked in different bedrooms, but it’s too late — the scents of citrus and sex become indistinguishable. Who came first, the voyeur or the reader? Not that that distinction is even clear, either: the border will remain blurred long after I seek asylum beyond my room. Flawed approach aside, I keep writing for the same reason anyone does: because it feels good.
PLEASURE // 2020
By the time I trade my lemon grove for forty acres, any ephemeral delusion of being an artist that may have once blossomed within me has rotten or been eaten by crows. So goes exposure. Besides, I’ve been more into input than output lately: listening, slouching into conversations and companionship.
I pluck the journal from the wooden bookshelf less and less frequently now, content to feel only the sun on my skin. My ever-rarer entries remain epistolary more out of stylistic habit than flirtation; the image of the voyeur fades. I’m too legal to be groomed now, anyways.
Not that my life lacks romance, of course. Although I’m writing less, the courted “you” only becomes more vivid; it starts growing heads. That is, I fall in love with everyone I talk to, or more aptly, everyone who talks to me adds their voice to the internal cacophony of wanting. You sit too close and I catch notes of sugar on your breath; I imagine how you might make my tongue smell that way, too. Mine still smells like citrus. When I write now, it’s love letters I carve on bone then scratch out, disgusted. Perversions.
When I return to my dorm after longing evenings spent cross-legged on floors and chairs and couches and beds, I reflect on how speech mirrors writing: exhibition of the mind, vulnerabilities packaged for and gifted to an audience. I feed off your every syllable like a plant converting sunlight to glucose. Input, input, input, until the distant days of feeding on endosperm lie buried beneath the earth. I’ve discovered I’m not a girl and I’m pretty sure I won’t die soon, so I’m juggling loving you and me both more. I’m struggling because I’m not used to receiving; taking has only ever been snatching.
I can only hope you feel it too: that intense, procreative power which resides in expressed thought. Because brains are corals which prefer budding to fragmentation, art bursting from bodies like babies. Like bombs. Or perhaps the many-optioned coral decides, instead, to proliferate sexually, intent upon sharing itself with another, and that you’ll ask me to stay the night, that you’ll trust the way my eyes and ears perceive but don’t pervert you.
Your words— theophanies of some primordial fertility god— ferment within me. I approach the altar and buy a new, clean notebook. Devote myself to spending less time writing to hungry eyes and more time on craft, on my own pleasure. But if you’d like a glimpse, friendly Brahma, get in touch sometime: I’m learning to trust you that way, too.
SHAME // 2022
I’ve spent the last two years sweating over growth and generation, tasting tepidly the fruits of labor. I’ve yet to find a single worm. The ballpoint sings sensually over the steady rumble within, jotting field notes about those same fecund acres. College, self-discovery, the whole bit. The love letters emerge from the skull into ivory-white documents, which I send to someone I love.
Though the manifold “you” has shrunk to a single, clear face, the ink dripping from my pen remains multi-sourced. I present final drafts to my partner as craft: an outlet for emotion, thoughtfully exorcized but untethered from expectation. They like it. They make art too, which I love, but we know and kiss each other already, so I take the mutual admiration lightly and continue to hone techniques in private.
Once I begin publishing and posting, though, the observer effect strikes, and everything I write becomes vulgar again. Writing as cultivation again shakes me like a violent wind through branches. I concede to Berkeley that trees falling in forests are witnessed by God alone, but I question his optimism given that my every tree falls in the city now, swollen lemons tumbling from the boughs, plucked from the sidewalks, and squeezed over candlelit date night dinners. Squirming bookworms, real or imagined, crowd the streets, eating the stray fruits before they can rot in the gutters. No nook in my notebook offers safety.
Probably few people have read what I’ve written; anyways, it’s a bad habit of mine to only read people I adore. But the possibility that I may be discovered, stripped, devoured anywhere— or anytime, since art survives in perpetuity— forces me to recognize a sinister Protestant slant: all along, I’ve imagined the author’s right hand and the reader’s right eye joined together in lust, amputation and enucleation the only options for holiness. But this revelation prompts a new crisis: do we really sin like that?
Somehow, I doubt it. Keep talking and writing, and I’ll pledge to do the same, and we can lay on the grass chatting until Gaia metes out firm, atavistic justice. We’ll know she’s favored us when art and spit both go down more sweet than sour.
REVELRY // 2024
Far from the bedroom where I first tasted citrus and the caustic white bubbles therein, I scrub the dirt and the skin from my skin. My body is nearing an age where Theseus’ ship raises new questions about selfhood and identity, where the locks rust off long-locked cells. I commune and hold Communion with my loved ones. I continue to write and reveal. Sex and art grow in their mercy. It all helps. Every lemon I offer to taste is submitted by my own volition; I even keep a few just for myself.
It’s my night’s quietest hour and my pen runs dry, so I lick the nib only to find that I can’t taste the acid, can’t feel the burn. I’m still loud inside— the internal din eternally begging to be orchestrated, to be converted from discord to dance. I dig down into myself for a deep answer and conclude that surely it’s love now. I pant through another poem and purchase another notebook. At least, I think it’s love; but couldn’t it be enough, Rilke, for the songs to feel soft in your throat, in my hands? ■
Layout: Colin Nations & Jaycee Jamison
Photographer: Sofia Alvarez
Stylists: Kyle Porter & Jonathan Xu
HMUA: Jaycee Jamison
Model: Kyle Porter