No Pride in the Act

The heaviest of burdens is simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.
—Milan Kundera

Before the kitchen table, before the burner’s flame,
before the wooden cutting board is the garden.
And it is here the earth and sky convene

to produce sprout and leaf, thick flesh, sweet seeds—
the miracles we eat. I say miracle because
there is so much complexity in the story. We plant

a seedling, water it, weed around it, get on our knees
and pray with our hands in the dirt. And sometimes
we’re graced with tomatoes, zucchini, corn, peas.

And sometimes it’s terrible work. Today I spent hours
tapping squash beetles from hollow green stems
into a tin of warm soapy water. When that was too tedious,

I took to pinching them till they squished. It was
gruesome, the spurt as their bodies popped. I wore
gloves to make myself less squeamish. Dozens?

Hundreds? How many small bluish gray bugs did I kill
with my hands in the tangle of stalks? There was no thrill in it, no
elation, no malice. I did not smile, not once. But I was sure

that they must go so I could harvest my squash.
And their eggs on the undersides of the leaves, oh!
Tiny amber drops that glistened like gems in the sun.

I could not help but marvel at them as I ripped them off, every one.
It was a burden today that brought me so close
to the earth. It was real, the garden, the repulsive work.

We do what we must: kneel in astonishment at the horrible
wonderful, bountiful, edible, ghastly, beautiful, honest world.


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