Excerpted from The
Everyone else I know accepts temporary malaise, the blues, as an ordinary human infirmity like the flu and sees nothing wrong with a few lackluster days of self-pampering and doughy lying about. But my own chosen love, my Cynthia, the caramel center of my bittersweet life, views depression as indistinguishable from masturbation and weight lifting: a waste of limited male energy.
I admit it. The tides of my disposition fluctuate with my luck at the mail box. Following this mornings letter of rejection I returned to the house with the glazed, magnetized eyes of the children of the damned.
"Uh oh," was all Cynthia said.
"Maybe its a sign. Maybe I should give up playwriting. Finally admit it. No, I do not have any talent. Its time I grew up, accepted the fact that some people have it and some people never will."
She waited for me to finish. It is no secret that in her womens group I am known as Uncle Vanya.
"Maybe I should just give up and find something Im good at."
"How about pottery? Or the guitar," she said. "Definitely. The guitar. And give yourself a solid month. Then if the Rolling Stones dont ask you to join them, take up, lets see, sand painting." According to Cynthia you dont pout about rejections, you make more submissions, just like you dont jerk off when you can make love or bench press dumbbells when you can work in your garden.
Which is what we are doing, pulling summer beets, red and hard and clinging with earth, raking over the soil planting cabbage in their place. Our bodies are machines, oiled with perspiration dusted brown. I pull a beet, Cynthia will take it, take it, on and on and on. I do not feel like talking and Cynthia obliges me. She knows, the work is my cure.
Cynthias legs are caked with socks of earth, her forehead bears an airbrush smudge where she whisked her hair from her eyes. She wears a tight-fitting tank top, only a film that breathes with her sweat slippery breasts, and a pair of terry cloth shorts, damp in the crotch where they ride. I have not lost my desire for her. Our good sex is my only pleasure and perhaps the only reason she merely sighs when our eyes meet, sighs with a resigned shake of the head which says, Ill wait.
With the planting finished we sit, ankles crossed, under the lands oldest white oak and cut the beets from their greens. Hummingbirds thrash desperately, sipping nectar in flight as our black sentries, the crows, gather in the branches. Her gaze does not leave me, my soft belly that hangs over my shorts like the yeasty overspill of a muffin, my thick haunches, the odd patches of hair on my shoulders and neck. I am beautiful to her. Not almost beautiful if I lost ten pounds, not potentially respectable if I finally had a play produced, but unreservedly beautiful for who I am.
Our toes dig the loamy soil, our cat wreathes our ankles in pensive figure eights. The satin leaves of the Swiss chard, the castle wall of scarlet runner beans, the tomatoes, drooping pregnant with fruit, all wait.
She draws my face to hers. Her fingers skim the line of my cheek and fan wide at my neck and shoulders. Her palms slide across my nipples. As I raise her arms to slip off her damp top, her breasts, streaked with grit, tumble against my chin. Our bodies are wet, smelling of sweat and work, flecked with earth and needles of pine. As she pulls my shorts to my knees I kick them free of my ankles and ease onto a soft mattress of damp hay.
Drinking one another, sliding, licking, our noises are quieter than the catbirds calling and the passionate orchestra of crickets in the grass. Cynthia swings on top of me and places me inside her and we clutch, barely breathing, just feeling, not moving, murmuring, both of us, with our own primal sounds. How grateful we are.
My best friend laughs at my gardening. Why bother? You can buy the same damned lettuce at the Safeway. Old people garden. And spinsters. Farmers and immigrants. But he doesnt know. He has no idea.
Picture standing, naked, ankle deep in the earth, with your love. In July, when the air is a dense wet aura, a flannel sheet grazing your bare skin; when the squirrels are so busy they forget the bird feeders, when moths, like pellets, bat your windows and the prickly fronds of summer squash tickle your inner thighs. You have watched your love kneeling, stretching, tugging weeds. Her muscles slide beneath her skin. She sweats where your tongue wants to be. And the good air fills you, and your body thrums from the inside out. You are an animal, naked in the grass, in the dirt. You are hot and you want.
(There would be more gardens in American, I think, if Organic Gardening or Country Journal popularized the notion of garden sex. Plant your bed and sleep in it. Make your love and eat it, too. Sloganeering aside, a muscular pair of thighs behind a rake is a bigger turn-on than a pair of sixteen-year-old buns sewn into a pair of designer jeans. Any day.)
Always an outsider, in the garden I am at the center. Not a hub about which all else turns, but an organ breathing life inside a great whole. In the garden my body eclipses my minds poor potential for pleasure, my tension spills in a tide of orgasm and my love and I, bodies braided, lips licking salty skin, twine and roll like dolphins, float weightless on a crackling hill of straw.
The Kitchen Man