Stand naked before this morningâ€™s bathroom mirror, one week before your 48th birthday.Â Buddy, youâ€™re holding up tolerably well.Â All bear, thatâ€™s for sure: salt-and-pepper beard, chest and belly hair, tribal tattoos, pecs and arms pumped up from weight lifting.Â Then thereâ€™s the moderate belly, something you love on other men but never have been too enthused about on yourself.Â If it werenâ€™t for the bear movement, you well know that youâ€™d be considered too hefty and old for anyone to want.Â As it is, you embrace the titles of Leather Bear and Daddy Bear with great gratitude; theyâ€™re identities that have netted you many admirers.
From whence this belly, you growl, rubbing its curve.Â Youâ€™re two hundred twenty pounds, heaviest youâ€™ve been in all your life. You look best about one-ninety, dammit.Â This thick physique, this run-to-fat metabolism you inherited from your father. Youâ€™ve spent the last thirty years falling in and out of diets; you love good food and drink too much ever to be thin. Ten years with your partner, John, ten years of his fine talents in the kitchen on top of yours (you, descendant of so many excellent country cooks), plus regular imbibing of wine, Manhattans, martinis, mint juleps, plus too much sedentary reading and writingâ€”from thence this belly, this belly the furry solid symbol of memory, your bodyâ€™s stubborn, not-to-be-simply-shed memory of multitudinous good meals.Â Just this week, you and your husbear have whipped up hummus, tsadsiki, Southern eggplant salad, chicken and pork kabobs with mango chutney and pita bread, turkey-sausage-and-mushroom sauce atop radiatori.Â Next week, at your birthday celebration in Key West, Lord, thereâ€™ll be shrimp, Cuban pork, black beans and flan, piÃ±a coladas and Key lime pie sampled from as many restaurants as your limited vacation time permits.
Food and sex, what else is there? you are wont to joke with bear bravado.Â (Well, booze, of course.Â Booze, books, music, mountains, movies, forests, friends, and family.Â Does that cover it?Â Â Just about.)Â This morning perhapsâ€”since John has just bought you both new mountain bikes and youâ€™re thus likely to exercise more oftenâ€”maybe you can get away with a big, fattening, unhealthy Southern breakfast, the kind of meal you grew up on and so forever crave, the kind midlife health concerns rarely allow.Â Buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, thatâ€™s your specialty, one of Johnâ€™s favorites.Â Itâ€™s what he deserves today, bless him, after the cock-sucking he gave you last night.Â Bears are all about appetite.
Quietly you pull on camo shorts, letting him sleep late.Â In the kitchen, barefoot, bare-chested, sipping coffee you gather the ingredients.Â Cut Crisco into self-rising flour, the way your grandmother taught you, then add buttermilk.Â Knead the dough firmly, gently, the way you do a loverâ€™s beefy torso or crotch.Â Waiting for the biscuits to bake, fondle your nipples, still sore from last nightâ€™s lovemaking.Â Rub your hairy, growly bear-belly; through the camo cloth tug your cock.Â Remember what flesh remembers, blessed history of men and meals, when hungers so sweetly converged.
The great passion of your life, you must start with him, the few feasts you shared.Â Thomas is middle-aged now too, plump and even grayer than you.Â But today, with the scent of biscuits filling this house where you spend your life with John, not him, you want to see him now as he was then, when you wanted him more than youâ€™ll want anyone again, a short, well-muscled, thickly hairy cub with a sharp tongue, sharp mind, and impish grin.
Itâ€™s 1991, and how you want to please him.Â Perhaps, if you give him enough, if you make love to him more passionately and perversely than anyone else ever can, perhaps he will leave his lover, he will stay with you, he will not leave town at summerâ€™s end.Â Here are the surprise gifts you bring to your assignations: carved wooden boxes, spheres of amethyst, books on the Kabbalah.Â Here are bottles of German wine, cream-cheese Danishes, almond croissants, lemon squares.Â You present these tidbits to him like offerings, like the fruits of the harvest that your heathen ancestors used to lay inside stone circles, by sacred wells and on woodland altars, prayers of the supplicant for favor.
Today you sit on the deck with him, sipping Moselle.Â You are both shirtless in the balm of late May.Â Sun and the breeze-stirred shadows of maple leaves ripple over his bare chest, the rich brown hair over his heart.Â Soon you will buckle a black-leather, metal-studded dog collar around his neck and lead him inside.Â You will knot one bandana between his teeth, knot another over his eyes, rope him spread-eagle to the bed, and suck his nipples and cock.Â What you feel for him is what many feel for Christ, and, when you have him naked, bound, and gagged, a willing sacrifice, he is more beautiful in his submission than anything on earth.Â But right now you listen to himâ€”how he loves to talk, how he loves how you listenâ€”you listen to the wind in the leaves, you sip the wine and savor cream-cheese Danish, the buttery flakes scattering your belly hair.Â You feel the time together so rapidly running out.Â Young as you are, you somehow sense nothing will ever taste so sweet again.
Another day, deep into July, you are driving up the Shenandoah Valley, taking Thomas to his professional conference.Â Consummate liar, heâ€™s told his spouse that heâ€™s traveling with fellow students, but heâ€™s secretly here with you instead.Â The windows are down, summer air pours over your bare chest, Carly Simonâ€™s singing â€œThese are the good old days.â€Â Heâ€™s so desirable; itâ€™s such bliss to be with him.Â Despite the homophobic hooting of those driving by, he feeds you bits of blueberry scone, as if the two of you were truly intimate, truly spouses, not just fuck-buddies.Â You wonder if he loves you, and, if not, why not.Â It never occurs to you that the dangerous, needy, obsessive depth of your love is the very thing that makes it impossible for him to love you in return.Â And he is, for all intents and purposes, married.Â Heâ€™s just having a little erotic adventure; he doesnâ€™t want some crazy poet to wreck his life.Â Nearly two decades later, when you are in his shoes, then, then, fool, you will understand.
So many meals you cook for him, hoping that your domestic talents might convince him what a perfect husband you could be.Â Thereâ€™s hummus rich with olive oil and tahini, thereâ€™s kung pao chicken spicy with peppers and crunchy with peanuts, thereâ€™s tabouleh he criticizes for lacking sufficient parsley.Â Thereâ€™s a feast to celebrate Beltane: chicken curry with rice, homemade puri and mango chutney, apple strudel with ice cream.Â You cook all day, because nothing is too much trouble in your quest to impress him.Â There could be orange-glazed pork loin, spanakopita, or sauerbraten with potato dumplings, but these are meals that the presence of his spouse, the limitations of your adulterous time together, never allow.
Thomas is a meal in and of himself, your communion wafer, your hirsute god-loaf.Â Again and again you bring the little bear full of honey to your trysts.Â Again and again you dribble clover honey over his hairy nipples, his balls, the head of his cock.Â As if he were a big bearish biscuit, as if he were something entirely edible, your own private banquet.Â God knows you want to devour him, but licking honey off his nakedness has to be enough.Â There are, inconveniently, laws against cannibalism, against abduction.Â You want to keep him bound and gagged in your basement till his beard goes gray. You want your cock up his ass and his chest hair beneath your tongue till the stars tarnish.
He leaves, of course, at summerâ€™s end.Â You cry in his lap, you shake his hand on your office steps, he walks away, he and his husband move to New England.Â Your heart is an ash pit; no one wants to fuck a man so full of grief.Â What is left but food and drink?Â Pleasures of the present, they help you momentarily to forget the past.Â They are simply and easily arranged; unlike the ravishing of a beautiful man, they do not require reciprocity or consent.
You are too shy and damaged to pursue romance or sex, so victuals must substitute. This is called sublimation; this is called gaining weight.Â Culinary tourism becomes the key to your emotional survival.Â Track down roasted octopus, retsina, ouzo, melitzanosalata, and moussaka in Greece.Â In England, savor hard cider, steak-and-kidney pie, fish and chips, spotted dick.Â In Scotland, thereâ€™s single malt Scotch, haggis, and gooseberry fool; in Ireland, thereâ€™s potato boxty, soda bread, and stout.Â Vienna is Wiener Schnitzel, KÃ¤sespÃ¤tzle and Linzertorte; Zermatt is kirsch and Raclette; Zurich is huge Riesenwurst, RÃ¶sti, and Ã©mincÃ© de veau.Â On a restaurant balcony in Lucerne, look out over the river and mountains, sip beer and cut into the local specialty, pastete, a pastry case full of veal, mushrooms, and cream sauce.Â You have come all this way to prove to yourself that wonders and delights apart from him are still attainable.Â For a few minutes, savoring the Swiss landscape, the wine, the food, you are truly happy; for a few minutes you succeed.
These biscuits, these here, now, in 2008, they are done.Â You slide them off the baking sheet, wrap them in a tea towel, snuggle them in a basket to cool.Â Start the gravy.Â Chop onion, heat milk, fry sausage.Â Reach out for what remains of 1995.
In winter, a letter from Thomas after three yearsâ€™ silence.Â News of his move to the DC suburbs, his desire to see you.Â The affair recommencing during his husbandâ€™s business trips in February and May.Â Touching, tasting, tying, sliding inside him again.Â Pilsner Urquell, homemade pizza, popcorn, Canadian whiskey.Â His tongue, nipples, cock in your mouth.
Now it is July.Â After two months overseas, you are flying into Dulles, eagerly meeting Thomas for lunch.Â The crepe myrtles blossom pink and white, Georgetown is humid and hot, his beard-shadow and the scent of his sweat madden you.Â He knows how much you love it when he doesnâ€™t shave or use deodorant.Â Lure him back to your friendâ€™s apartment.Â Give him the pewter quaich you bought him at Edinburgh Castle, the tiny bottles of Lindisfarne mead and Atholl Brose.Â Soon enough he is stripped, the hardness of muscle and softness of chest hair once more within your grasp. Soon enough he is blindfolded and bound, trembling and sighing on the unfolded futon.Â Sip mead from the quaich, drip honey-fire on his lips and brow, pour creamy Atholl Brose over his nipples and navel.Â Lick and lick, nuzzle and lick, as if you might burrow down into some sweet place inside heâ€™s never let you see.Â Soon enough youâ€™ve both shot, heâ€™s untied, you are lying together sticky and spent, your beard musky with the aroma of his armpits and crotch.Â Your time is over, he must get home.
Making love, youâ€™ve been spared the knowledge that you and he will never make love again.Â Now his necessity showers off your honey-wine and your scent.Â Embrace him one last time, walk him to the Cleveland Park Metro stop.Â In a few months, there will be someone new in his life, there will be acrimonious emails back and forth, angry emailed good-byes.Â You will mourn, you will want to die, you will fuck around, you will meet John, you will happily settle down, you will never forget.
Twelve years pass.Â Then one winter night there he is, sitting with his latest husband in a San Francisco bookstore where you are reading your work, poems and fiction he inspired.Â It has been so long, he has become so gray it takes you a few minutes to recognize him.Â One of the greatest shocks of your life, but, even so stunned, you are sufficient Southerner to be polite, you are professional enough to read with some composure, even though what you really want to do is hide in the menâ€™s room and sob.Â He is smiling as if you are simply old friends; heâ€™s hoping to grab a drink and catch up.Â You are far too numb to manage that.Â Instead, you introduce him to your husbear, and then you flee.Â In the bar across the street, you order several doubles, Tullamore Dew straight up, you chat with friends as if nothing were wrong.
You will never be drunk enough.Â You will not sleep tonight.Â You will not want to touch or be touched for months.
What kind of freak are you?Â Itâ€™s been over a decade.
Is this protection, learning not to worship but to play?Â Is this wisdom, now that men have become mere friends and fuck-buddies, not gods?Â See, romanticism expires, realism burgeons, but the feasts continue!Â They do not mean as much as they used toâ€”nothing means as much as it used toâ€”but they are perverse and they are delicious.Â What you have achieved is breadth.Â You are no longer capable of depth.
Ronâ€™s a short, stocky, auburn-goateed Top youâ€™ve met online; his scene is tying up men in their leathers.Â This January weekend, heâ€™s driven down from Lynchburg despite impending snow for several days of play.Â Youâ€™re dressed as heâ€™s ordered, in jeans, cowboy boots, wife-beater, and biker jacket.Â Heâ€™s had you leave the jacket unzipped so he can play with your horny-hard tits.Â He tapes your mouth, ties your hands in front of you, ropes up your feet, wraps yards of tight white rope around your knees and torso.Â You are one happy fucking pig; it is so fucking hot to be this powerless.Â You grunt and struggle; he holds you down, laughing, kneads your pecs, rubs his cock across your face.
You spend the night bound like this. Toward dawn, a heavy snow begins.Â Toward dawn, as youâ€™d hoped, Ron pushes your jeans down to your boots and kindly fucks you up the ass.Â In the morning, he unties you, strips you to your briefs, cuffs your hands in front of you, buckles a ball-gag in your mouth.Â â€œYou promised me bacon and buckwheat cakes for breakfast, boy.Â Get to it!â€ he says, slapping your butt.
It is hard to break eggs, sift flour, and flip bacon while restrained, but you are in no position to complain.Â Soon, to your shame, you are drooling around the ball and into the batter.Â Ron grinsâ€”â€œMan, youâ€™re making a mess!â€â€”wipes your moist, bristly chin and ties a bandana over the ball-gag to soak up the slobber.
It should be an Olympic event, flipping pancakes with cuffed hands.Â You grow deft at it.Â Now all is ready, the table set, the food steaming on two plates.Â Ron uncuffs you only long enough to recuff your hands behind your back.Â He cuts your heap of cakes into bite-size pieces, pours on the syrup, puts the plate on the floor, and pushes you to your knees.Â Removing your gags, he pushes your face into the food.Â â€œGo for it, boy. Chow down.â€
You gobble like a dog, your beard and nose glazing with syrup.Â Ron chuckles, nudging your butt with his boot. The snow continues to fall.Â You can check another fantasy off.
Willâ€™s half your age, but heâ€™s one of the best Tops youâ€™ve ever known.Â Lean, smooth-chestedâ€”not your type at allâ€”but the guyâ€™s super-smart, hugely hung, and he thinks a Daddy Bear with a furry man-rack, bourbon-and-biscuit belly, and graying goatee is the hottest kind of captive.Â What man approaching fifty can resist such blandishments, such ego-food?Â No one seeing the two of you knocking back pints together in local dives would imagine that, one, you both are queer; two, guys with such an age difference are fucking; and, three, the big butch bear, not the slender boy, is the bottom.
But here you are, sitting and sweating in the dark, bucked and gagged in Willâ€™s closet on a beautiful spring afternoon.Â Heâ€™s told you youâ€™ll be enduring at least an hour in here, and youâ€™ve meekly acquiesced.Â Youâ€™re wearing camo pants, a camo hat, and black army boots:Â the guy not only has Daddy and bondage fetishes, heâ€™s into military gear too.Â Youâ€™re bare-chested; a chain-and-padlock slave collar and dog tags hang around your neck, marking you as his property.Â The dowel tied over your elbows and under your knees cuts into your flesh; your ass aches against the hard wooden floor.Â You fight your bonds, you groan, you shout for help, you beg him to let you loose.Â But Willâ€™s cruelâ€”one of the things you like about himâ€”so all your muffled complaints will do no good.Â Heâ€™s out there in the light, drinking bourbon and playing guitar.Â Heâ€™ll get to you when he feels like it.
At last the music stops, the closet doorâ€™s unlocked.Â You look up at him, your face furrowed with discomfort, eyes squinting in the sudden light.Â Old Civil War torture:Â this is a hard position to take for long, especially if youâ€™re more muscular than limber, especially if youâ€™ve got a gut.Â Will stands over you smiling.Â He wipes the sweat off your brow, then squats down and begins to flick your nipples till they stiffen.
â€œHands all right?Â Not numb?â€
Shake your head, manage a muffled, â€œFine, Sir.â€
Grin into your gag, vigorously nod, grunt, â€œYes, Sir.Â Yes, Sir.â€Â He knows how much you love this.
â€œPoor private.Â Bet youâ€™re hungry.â€
Suddenly the bandanaâ€™s unknotted, pulled from your mouth.
â€œLook here, big man.Â Your favorite.â€
Krispy Kreme.Â The little bastard has fetched you Krispy Kreme doughnuts.Â You shake your head, grinning with disbelief.Â Strange places our lusts lead us.Â Will pulls off sugary chunks and feeds you tenderly.Â â€œThank you, Sir,â€ you whisper in between mouthfuls.Â Doughnuts will only plump you up further, but, bless him, your Sarge loves a furry belly.
â€œHereâ€™s something to wash it down,â€ he says, lifting a glass to your lips. Bourbon.Â You suck down several healthy swigs.Â He knows how much you like to be buzzed during your captivity.
â€œJesus Fucking Christ,â€ you sheepishly mutter.Â â€œBondage, bourbon, and doughnuts?Â I think Iâ€™m in heaven!â€Â In answer, Will dips the bandana in the whiskey, gets it sodden, then stuffs it back in your mouth and knots it behind your head.Â When you bite down on the cloth, bourbon oozes into your beard and, dripping off your chin, moistens your belly and chest.
â€œTastes good, huh?Â Thatâ€™ll keep you quiet while youâ€™re enjoying these.â€Â When Will pulls alligator clamps from his pocket, your eyes widen, you shake your head and start whimpering helplessly.Â He eases the metal teeth onto each nipple, tightens their bite till you gasp, tugs on the chain between the clamps till the tender flesh throbs and youâ€™re begging him to stop.Â Will would love to see tears roll down your cheeks, but he knows youâ€™re too tough for todayâ€™s torture to break.Â Heâ€™ll have to settle for your wild eyes, your futile moans.Â Â Some other day, perhaps, heâ€™ll have you sobbing.
Right now heâ€™s had enough of your pained pleas.Â He presses one hand hard over your mouth.Â â€œShut the fuck up,â€ he says.
Your eyes meet.Â â€œTake it and shut the fuck up.â€Â Nod, grit your teeth, fall silent.Â He smiles, tightening the clamps yet another turn, and keeps tugging and twisting till your eyes roll back in your head.Â One of these days heâ€™s going to bring blood.
â€œYou got another half hour,â€ he says, dropping the chain to dangle between your agony-swollen nipples.Â He straightens your camo cap, pats your head, then shuts and locks the door, leaving you alone to rock and struggle, to chew your whiskey-sodden rag, to suffer and sweat, drunk and grateful in the dark.
Damnation, Zackâ€™s handsome.Â That black beard, that burly body, that stunning smile.Â At last monthâ€™s conference you were entirely mesmerized, finding it hard to speak to a man so smart, talented, and hot.Â You may be shy in person, yes, but youâ€™re bold as hell online.Â Now, after several weeks of back-and-forth email flirtation, Zackâ€™s breaking up a long drive north by spending tonight with you and John.
You both know how to seduce a bear.Â Tonight start with chipotle salsa, guacamole and chips, then chiles rellenos and chicken enchiladas.Â Finally, serve homemade peach ice cream.Â John, knowing how infatuated you are, heads upstairs with his dessert, giving Zack and you some time alone.Â Your ice cream grows a little soupy as you and Zack begin to neck on the couch, as you pull his shirt off, then shrug off your own.
â€œHoly fuck,â€ you sigh, recognizing the old reverence, pulling back from a beard-to-beard kiss to take the thick flesh of his fur-dusted pecs and belly in your hands. â€œI have got to tie you up.â€
â€œFine,â€ says Zack casually, smiling that amazing smile.Â â€œI need tied bad.Â Why donâ€™t you just feed me my dessert?â€
â€œHell, yes!â€ you growl, pulling rope from your baggy shorts pocket.Â In about thirty seconds, youâ€™ve very tightly and expertly knotted Zackâ€™s hands behind his back, then helped him step out of his jeans and briefs.Â Â He is, of course, even more beautiful naked and bound.Â A few dripping spoonfuls end up in his mouth.Â Some of the creamy melt you pass from tongue to tongue as if it were semen.Â Some ends up in his beard, in yours; in his chest hair, in yours; on his belly, on yours.Â Two bears laughing and lapping, getting hard.Â This is easy, this is joyful.Â You havenâ€™t had a man this remarkable in a long time.
Now the ice creamâ€™s done.Â Time to tie a bandana between Zackâ€™s teeth.Â Time to lead him upstairs by his cock, push him belly-down on the bed.Â Time to eat his hairy ass for nigh onto an hour, cherish how he bucks and moans.Â John will join you soon, to suck Zackâ€™s cock, tug his balls, kiss his gagged mouth.
Sticky sheets, body hair, and beards matted with peach-cream and come:Â here are sacraments worth celebrating.
The sausage gravy is just about ready when John trundles sleepily into the kitchen.Â The scents of cooking have roused him.
â€œBiscuits and gravy?Â Great!â€ he mumbles, never too talkative before coffee.
Things are a little staid after a decade together.Â The two of you used to cover one another with olive oil and wrestle naked on a plastic sheet.Â He used to tie you to the bed and make you lick Sambuca off his cock.Â You need more of that.Â You need barbeque sauce nuzzled off thighs, cream of coconut lapped patiently from hairy butt-cracks, brandy sucked out of fuzzy navels, Key lime pie nibbled off torsos. You need to keep a little plastic honey-bear in the bedroom.Â Wealth and fame you do not have, but, thank the gods of lust and harvest, imagination your hungers have never lacked.Â You watch your husbearâ€”the man who loves you, tries to controls you, maddens you, protects you, pisses you offâ€”as he snarfs up his breakfast.Â You thank the gods of fire, cock-sucking, ass-fucking, knot-tying, and the cooking cauldron for the power to satisfy appetites.Â You and he have years together yet, so many men and meals yet to share.
â€œWoof, this is delicious,â€ he says, taking another big bite of biscuits and gravy.Â You fork up a rich mouthful, chew slowly, and smile.Â Good god, heâ€™s right.
Â Jeff Mann has published three books of poetry, a volume of memoir and poetry, two essay collections, two novellas, two novels, and two collections of short fiction.Â â€œLeather-Bear Appetitesâ€ is from his Lethe Press essay collection, Binding the God.