Cross-Fertilization

By JEFFREY HARRISON

 

It’s come to this: I’m helping flowers have sex,

crouching down on one knee to insert

a Q-tip into one freckled foxglove bell

after another, without any clue

as to what I’m doing—which, come to think of it,

is always true the first time with sex.

And soon Randy Newman’s early song

“Maybe I’m Doing it Wrong” is running

through my head as I fumble and probe,

golden pollen tumbling off the swab.

 

I transported these foxgloves from upstate New York,

where they grow wild, to our back yard

in Massachusetts, and I want them to multiply,

but the bumblebees, their main pollinators,

haven’t found them, and I’m not waiting around.

The only diagram I found online portrayed

a flower in cross section, the stamens extending

the loaded anthers toward the flared opening,

but the text explained, “The female sexual

organs are hidden.” Of course they are.

 

Which leaves me in the dark, transported back

to a state of awkward if ardent

unenlightenment, a complete beginner

figuring it out as I go along,

giggling a little and humming an old song

as I stick the Q-tip into another flower

as if to light the pilot of a gas stove

with a kitchen match, leaning in to listen for

the small quick gasp that comes

when the flame makes contact with the source.

 

Jeffrey Harrison is the author of four full-length books of poetry, The Singing Underneath (1988), selected by James Merrill for the National Poetry Series, Signs of Arrival (1996), Feeding the Fire (Sarabande Books, 2001), and Incomplete Knowledge, (Four Way Books, 2006). In addition, he published the chapbook An Undertaking in 2005, and in June 2006, The Waywiser Press brought out The Names of Things: New and Selected Poems in England.

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Cross-Fertilization

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