Justin Phillip Reed on "Consent"


On "Consent"

Many times I've arrived at the moment of a man entering me and found there two truths: I don't want this; I'm going to have this. When I've studied these moments, a history, they reveal themselves not as single moments but a continuum of conflicts, incessantly opening, branch and bloom. What the body does. Today the rains, for instance, and the first few drops that hit dampened the soil may not have seemed like the beginning of a beating that would last hours and end in formlessness and saturation… I needed and I was located, having not yet found the language to specify my need. On the long journey toward autonomy, I thought to fuck within a miasma of uncertainty was the thing, not the kink. I thought, as a "man," "sex" with "men" is like this. It was an odyssey of false starts.

Sex with men is sometimes clichéd with authoritarianism. I was always young. There was always a fatherness about them, so I felt frequently as if I owed, should quiet myself and be thankful to have this paternal closeness, if only for a moment and with vexation. "Sharper than a serpent's tooth." And the treasonous barometer at my waist led the body in the performance of gratitude. It isn't that no one thought to tell me that I'd spend so much time in unwanted intimate conditions. No one did, but it isn't primarily that. I did want, but wanted what, precisely? I hadn't learned for myself the wide gap of that un-answer, of all that can happen between want and the end of the sentence, of the risks I would take with flesh and memory while trying to get there, and quickly. It's hard to explain this to a person whose name you probably don't know (and why would you?), and so say practically nothing, and either party assumes you both agree on the terms and objectives of the transaction.

I think I'm supposed to tell you about the beginnings of this poem. It begins in small towns of South Carolina. Of Tennessee. Towns with a lot of churches, typically. Sprawling rural landscapes that make it harder to reject someone who drives a half-hour to meet you. It begins in chat rooms, then Craigslist, then hookup apps. It pretends to begin out of another poem I wrote in which the speaker fucks a tow truck driver in the bed of someone he loves unrequitedly (which I did). But, in that case, there's no way to say how it begins. To say it begins with my father would be to say that it doesn't. To say it begins in a Black boy would be to say it begins upon him. Or it begins in white fathers of the churchful, small towns of the Southeast U.S., which is to say the poem was always going to begin. And through this poem, in a way, I begin. Having made language for this thing I lived that went elsewhere unnamed, I am not quite what I was.




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