Little Death: On Power


by luther hughes



I had forgotten how I got there, on my knees, in the motel bathroom. I had forgotten what drove my eyes to gaze and my head to nod, saying what my mouth should’ve known not to. Funny how much authority desire has over the body. How we just move like a puppet, limbs not our own, voice not our own.


We were at the bus stop and he approached me and asked, “Why you dressed like that?” I don’t remember what I had on but something about my fit must’ve screamed to him. He followed with, “You dressed like a female.” His voice was splintered, jagged like a giant slab of wood cut by a broken chainsaw.


“How you get down?” He approached me from behind and his voice sliced the back of my neck.

“I like dudes.” I was still, but everything inside me jumped. I liked what his presence did to my body.

“You going to Kent?”



We got on the bus.


We were in the motel bathroom and, my God, he wanted me. Wanted inside me. I owned him. I wore the crown.




And when the punishment becomes, itself, a pleasure?
When there’s no night that goes unpunished?

                                                Carl Phillips, “Beautiful Dreamer”

As a bottom, I am drawn to the word “punishment” because lately I haven’t considered being penetrated as such. In fact, for me, it has been the opposite. My power comes from being penetrated. But, because bottoming has been likened to femaleness and femaleness is seen as submissive or less than, I grew up thinking that a desire to be penetrated was a desire to be humiliated. There is a narrow bridge between humiliation and punishment. So the question rings true— “[W]hen the punishment becomes, itself, a pleasure,” what happens next?


In the motel bathroom, we fucked. It hurt. That wasn’t my first time bottoming, but I admit, I was still trying to understand what my body could and couldn’t handle. After a few strokes, a few times of him saying, “Relax,” a calm sensation poured over me. And when I looked at him, his eyes brimmed with: “I love being inside you.” Power reared its immaculate head.

I felt as if I was in control of his every movement which considered pleasure obtained only by what he desired. And what he desired was me.

Phillips’s poem ends like this: “I was the Blue King. I led the dance.”


Writing this scene was very uncomfortable. Time and time again, I found myself stopping and erasing, trying to appear less vulgar; I tried to justify my actions. I don’t know why I felt the need to do so. Is it possible that this hints at how I feel about bottoming: ashamed and humiliated? I’m not entirely sure. I am sure that writing this piece left me feeling exposed because I felt found out. I let a random stranger fuck me—have his way with me. I was (and possibly still am) afraid of feeling judged and ultimately humiliated.

What concerns me even more while writing this scene is that while I was being fucked, I felt the opposite. The feeling of having control over someone who desperately desired me gave me power. Said “punishment” was pleasurable. The line between violence and pleasure is blurred. The line between acted upon and actor is also blurred. If The Bottom is the “acted upon”—the one being “punished”—and the “actor” is the one delivering said punishment, how do I explain those moments when I felt in control? The same question can be asked for The Poem and The Poet. When sitting down to write a poem, I am the one writing the words, but as the saying goes: “The Poem will tell you what it wants.” In this case, who is The Bottom: The Poem or The Poet?


The last time I had an issue with bottoming, I was with my ex-boyfriend. It was early summer/late spring. He couldn’t remain hard and when he was hard enough, my body wouldn’t let him in. He blamed me, said things like, “You’re too tight,” and “I wish you would just relax.” The thing is, I was relaxed. By then, I had known exactly how to outsmart my body enough to be punished for eventual pleasure. So, what was it? Why had my body decided to build a wall? Who was in control?


My body followed its own decree.


Is this not too far off from how we write poems? Sometimes, I sit down to write a poem and there’s a wall. I try to walk around the wall. I try to climb the wall. I find tools to help me tear the wall down. But, this time nothing.



When I write about desire, I am of two minds over power and tenderness. This is not to say that power cannot be tender. When I am the king, I reign tenderly. I look him in the eyes. I whisper in his ears, Don’t stop. I kiss his forehead. I assure him my kingdom is a kingdom joy.


I am not afraid of power. I revel ownership.


Rickey Laurentiis, in his poem, “Beautiful Bottom, Beautiful Shame,” asks: “What does possession mean?”


When I sit down to write a poem, who owns whom—me or the poem yet to be written? I both believe and doubt I am in charge. Someone has compared us to gods when we sit down to write poems. Someone has said we are nothing but slaves planting and replanting the same seeds until the harvest comes.


When I am ass-naked in front of him, I watch him watch me. Oh, how he thirsts for me.


Oh, how I thirst for The Poem to come to fruition.


Does that mean that The Poem is then The Bottom? I think the question is not about titles, but about agency. Both The Bottom and The Poem have agency in what happens to their bodies. It is true that the “actor” can, in some ways, do what they please, but only as the “acted upon” allows. At the end of the day, when I sit down to write a poem, I can only do as much as The Poem wants me to do. Subject vs. object, actor vs. acted upon, bottom vs. top, poem vs. poet—all these titles quickly become a swamp which makes it difficult to highlight one over the other as “King.” However, at the end of the day, one must give up control, so both can have pleasure. One must, in a matter of speaking, swallow their pride.




Laurentiis writes: “We / Danced the dance that says I want you, / Come closer, Come in me.”


He did, in the motel bathroom, come in me, and I didn’t mind. He leaned into my body. I could hear the submission in his voice when he said, “Damn.” It felt good to feel good enough to fuck a man to completion.


I was young. My power came in early. I knew what I had. I had a body who knew what it wanted, when it wanted, and how.




It could be as simple as this: we both own and submit to The Poem.


When I grew tired of my ex-boyfriend hitting the wall, I sucked him off.


He came in my mouth.


I swallowed.

Luther Hughes