Charcoal by Katie Collins Guinn

Editor Acacia Blackwell, Editor's Choice, October 1st, 2018

"Years later I finally reclaimed my pleasure for desire."


A personal essay by Katie Collins Guinn.

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I was born with the vibration of desire pumping through my veins. Like the sweet taste of a strawberry pulsing through the caterpillar’s body as she slurps the bright red juice. Like the perimeter of a rose petal that cascades into the next, and the next, and the next. Holding so tightly the delicate center begging to be released so her fragrance can attract the bees.


When I was 9, I wrote in my ballerina teddy bear diary about how much I wanted to fuck Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block, and Dewayne from my class.

My older sister, who was seven years older than myself, didn’t like me so much growing up. She was only nice to me when she wanted me to do the dishes for her so she could go out. One day when she was babysitting me, I walked into her room without knocking and discovered her with dick in her mouth from the boyfriend sitting on her bed. She was so nice to me for months after that. I never told.

As far as I can remember my lady parts ached and throbbed, and begged for attention. Like the rose.  I knew it was bad, like it needed to be a secret, because no one ever talked about it, but I would lay in bed and touch myself just to calm that flower down. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to have sex like my sister. I couldn’t wait for boys with their shirts off to bring me roses, like the poster on her door. But I knew I never wanted to have a dick in my mouth. And today I suck at sucking dick.

I use to sneak into one of the rooms in the basement. The locked room, the one that hosted boxes of playboys and a hustler mixed in here and there. I’d check the cold steel knob at the bottom of the stairs and every once in a while, it would turn all the way, inviting me in.  It was musty in that room filled with neglected bodies on a page, stacked in cardboard, waiting to be rediscovered. I loved being in there and admiring the women gazing at me through the photographer’s lenses, their eyes told me they owned their bodies, the artful poses I wanted to draw with charcoal. The way the dark substance makes such delicate lines. The way I can blend out curves with one finger and add layer after layer to intensify the deepness of the burnt earth. Holding this piece of earth that has survived fire to make beauty in my hands is satisfying. The bigger swipes and lines, the better. Quick strokes of this fragile remnant of the forest bringing to life what lies in my head makes me feel alive and hungry for more beauty to come from my body. I get to make beauty with the earth.

The memory of that knob turning still gives me pleasure.

When I was about 10, my older cousin started touching me. We’d had fun together for years before playing pool downstairs at my grandparents’ house across the street from mine. It was a large creepy cellar, with walls and floors of ancient packed earth. The north side of the house had a crawl space where the spiders lived. My ache for attention wasn’t for him, that’s when I realized the innocence of my veins. But he must have thought his was for me. He would tell me there was something cool in there, but we had to lie down in the dust, the dirt, the bugs and look up at it. He would show me how to play pool. He’d convince me to lay down on the 8’ table just to see how long it was compared to us. That’s when he’d go for the touch. We’d fish the balls out of the knotted baskets and he’d poke me in the butt with the cue.

I started refusing to go get a popsicle in the deep freeze when he was there. I refused to play pool, which I highly enjoyed when he was there. By then it was too late. With each rub and grab, stab and heavy breath in my face, he robbed my innocent desire.

Whenever my desire returned after that, his pasty face appeared in my mind’s sharp remembering eye. His black hair and eyebrows that ran together in the middle of his face. I don’t remember the color of his eyes, because I tried not to look at them ever again after that.

I’d shudder in disgust, shame, anger and sorrow.

Years later I finally reclaimed my pleasure for desire. My heart so alive and vibrant, pulsing through my body. Born in my chest and surging to my fingers, toes, my eyes and sacred entrance. I had managed to block it out until one day he returned before me in my mind.

I rewrote my memory story. So when his face and dick show up in visions, I rip it off his lanky body, and the figure, the physical shape of him turns to charcoal. It hardens first, his soul burning away from his body, so fast he can’t pull away. Just as he did with every rub and poke of me.  His charred empty body turns to dust, like the leftover particles I blow off my paper after drawing. I pick up the larger shards of it and draw the biggest body, lifesized.  My own body living in a bed of flowers, their petals hugging me with their sensual lines, their fragrance entering my body. It is me without him, as he has left the story. He is left behind in that dank unfinished cellar, his dust seeped into the ancient earth. That place I haven’t been inside in fifteen years. I hope that part of him has left his body as well, and that he hasn’t hurt anyone else since me, there were others before me, but there was adult defense of his denials. I hope he is able to have pleasure and be in love without regressing to the icky things he did to us. I hope that part of himself stopped with him, burned away so as not to burn through future generations.

Now when I experience pleasure, I visualize those flowers, the beautiful lines of dark charcoal, caterpillars slurping strawberries in caterpillar bodies, and blooming into butterflies, Prussian blue wings flapping their tiny bodies back to the roses. All the while each beautiful piece of it is caressing my body. And I do not feel bad. My body does beautiful things.

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Header image courtesy of Agent X. To view his artist feature, go here.


Katie Collins Guinn is an artist, mother of blood and non-blood children, designer and writer, wifey, flower gardener, 4th generation North Portlander and lover of the beautiful.

She’s spent time as a contributing freelance writer for the Portland Mercury. She’s part of the corporeal writing tribe, which has brought about work that’s been hiding in her lungs, liver and heart for years.

Her adult coloring book The Stoner Babes was recently published with Microcosm Publishing. She’s had work published in Nailed Magazine and The Manifest-station.

She cares for 19 roses and counting.


Acacia Blackwell

Acacia is a writer from Portland, OR, which suits her because sunshine gives her anxiety. She is currently completing an MFA, despite being recently told by Tom Spanbauer that to become a better writer, she needs to "unlearn all that grad school stuff." She listened, and it seems to be working. Acacia is working on a collection of personal essays that she really doesn't want to admit might be a memoir, and a memoir that she really doesn't want to admit might be a novel.