Nikki Magennis

nude studies


‘Did you never wear clothes when you were a kid?’

Every photo, I’m running naked in sunshine, clothed in fresh air. But I remember the day I climbed a tree to grab the rope swing. My dress got stuck as I launched, and I was left stuck, hanging in mid air with my bottom half kicking, naked. My friends below circled, laughing. Discovering shame for the first time, I burned.



I modelled mostly for groups. You sit and fix your eyes on a spot on the floor, and eventually start to hallucinate. It’s hard work, physical labour. Your muscles hurt. Dead legs. Pins and needles. But the money’s good.

In class, when the model is changing, everyone averts their eyes. It’s in the transition between clothed and unclothed that one is really naked. When nude, it’s fairly easy to become an object, make your body a face; breasts as eyes, cunt a mouth, like a Magritte painting. You assume a blank expression.



I’ve painted beautiful people, and people I thought ugly to the point of repulsive. Men, women. Kristeen with the blonde frizz and acres of rolling fat. Andrew with his greasy leer, beer belly and occasional erection. There’s never been a person, a body, I’ve not wanted to draw. Every one is fascinating. Everyone is just an arrangement of lines and colours. We all reflect the light differently, that’s where the interest lies.

I dig into the oil-slick palette, come up for air hours later with my hands covered in gore. Trying so hard to X-ray the subject, to look under the skin, it’s only when you face the audience you realise it’s your own guts you’ve hung up on the line.


patient, mother

They gave me a spinal which numbed me from my heart down. I couldn’t inhale properly. I asked one of the women in the theatre to hold my hand, because even the touch of a stranger lends comfort. Behind a green curtain, they cut me open and pulled the baby out. I listened to my son scream for fifteen minutes. As he finished putting me back together, the doctor took a sweepstake on how many staples I’d need.

At last, they tucked the baby into my nightdress, naked, struggling, his nails dirty with scum and blood. His skin perfect against my skin. I realised – all I needed was strong shoulders and arms. I didn’t exist from the waist down. I held on tight.



After the birth, I carried myself round in a stranger’s body. Scarred, sagging, striped like a tiger with purple stretch marks. Wounded in the middle, I bend in half like a hinge. Breasts scratched and swollen from feeding, back fucked from lifting, everything fucked from lack of sleep. I aged ten years overnight, averted my eyes when I passed a mirror.

The first time we made love, months late, you touched my scar. The same way the baby grabs for the most dangerous object in the room, you reached for the most tender part of me, the red line I’m scared to even look at.

I flinched, but your hand is warm. Your touch is good. You call me back to my body.



I have worn different bodies, different lives, different people. I’ve been a smear of bright skin, a drunk exposing myself, a good dancer. I’ve had gardener’s hands, dirty and blunt, inhaled a million cigarettes. Swam naked in rivers, carried a seed until it weighed me down, nursed a baby to sleep, got out of bed a hundred million times, even when I thought I could not.

What is left behind is not even scar tissue, not even bone. What is left behind is the movements I made, towards you and away from others, onwards into new countries, new days, just like the old days, more days, a finite number of days, working, always working, towards stillness.


*All names have been changed.

17 Responses to “Nikki Magennis”

  1. Beautiful piece, Nikki. The sensitivity of your eye, your prose, and your soul is breathtaking.

  2. Beautiful, Nx. Thank you.


  3. Nikki, this is just gorgeous! I love the repetition of lines throughout the photographs and the thread running through the words.

    And yay!!!! that F-Stop is back.

  4. God, Nikki, that’s incredibly beautiful. A work of art. I’m teary.

  5. You’re all lovely. Thanks very much!

    Robin, I’m glad you picked up the thread, so to speak. I chose the pictures mostly intuitively. It’s really interesting trying to find pictures that chime in a certain way with the words, without, I hope, being too illustrative.

  6. Nikki, I think that’s why I like pictures with words so much, especially when they are like this (rather than being purely illustrative) – they add to rather than detract from the words.

  7. I’m writing this with tears welling up in my eyes, Nikki – like Jo has already mentioned. Such gorgeous, thoughful and sensitive piece; a little piece of your heart and soul here. Thank you. I’m all goose-pimpled now.

  8. Oh, Nikki. Breathtaking.

  9. Words don’t suffice. This is so intense, so powerful.

    Thank you for sharing it.

  10. I just have one word. Amazing!

  11. Oh Nikki, you made me cry. Beautiful and inspiring. I love your poetic soul.

  12. Your words touched my soul and reminded me of birth, of scars, of swollen breasts. I smile thinking of my son who called today, already 26 and yet your words made those memories appear in a flash. Thank you.

    Do you reside anywhere near Philadelphia or pass through here on occasion? Would love to have you as featured reader at my Erotic Literary Salon.

    Jeremy, Robin, Emerald and Heidi have all read at this event. You would be joining a group of distinguished writers.

    Susana Mayer

  13. Neve, I’m really touched, thank you! And thank you for having me here on the f-stop, too.

    Thanks to everyone else, it really means a lot to hear you enjoyed the essay.

    Susana, I’m really flattered at your offer, and so glad you found something in the essay that resonated. I’m afraid I live on the wrong side of the Atlantic, or I so would have loved to visit the Salon! Maybe sometime in the future.

  14. Nikki, you are welcome to send me your words and I will have someone or myself read them at the Salon. Of course your blog will be mentioned. Once my site is fully constructed I can also add your piece to the site. Your piece would have to be no longer than 5 minutes if read aloud.

  15. Oh man, one of these days I’m going to give in to the basest part of me and admit to envy. But not this day. This day I’m going to praise your astonishing way with words and photographs and drawing and painting.
    Where did you come from? You are truly an artist and I’m overjoyed to know not only of you, but you. It’s an honour to be a friend, a Lust Bites friend, a facebook friend, a blogger friend, a friend I’ve never met. It’s an honour.

  16. Oh, Madeline, you’re so sweet, thank you! I’m really … um, speechless! Thank you.

    Susana, that’s a lovely idea, thank you. I’ll time this piece and see how it comes in – I’d love to be a virtual presence at your Salon!

  17. Lovely. Scary. Moving.
    Thank you Nikki!

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