I hold my wife’s hand while the doctor
inserts a metal something into her vagina —
she winces, and so do I. “It pinches,”
she says. “How’s that?” he asks,
making an unseen adjustment
beneath the paper draped
across her legs. She begs me
with her eyes — I don’t know —
make him stop, make the pain
go away. “Do you have it?”
he asks me and I take the vial
of freshly laundered sperm —
it’s called a “sperm wash” —
from an envelope, uncap it
and hold it while he siphons
the contents into a long-nosed
hypo. We listen to the paper rustle
as he tries to find another
opening inside her body.
“Take a deep breath,” he says
and we both inhale
disinfectant and alcohol.

“Done,” the doctor says as he removes
the needle. “Wait five minutes before
getting up.” So we wait, and pray
for our antique egg and battered seed
to make a miracle. I listen
to our breathing, the ancient hiss
of desire, and wonder how at fifty-two
I could wish to be a father.
I think of my nephews
lumbering gallantly into manhood
and how I’ll be an old, old man
before my children are ready
for the burden of their lives.
What will I have to give them
besides anger at my own decline,
sorrow that I won’t know them better?

Finally my wife sits up,
and I help her from the table.
She gathers herself
into her clothes, each breath
a tearing, almost a sob.
I stroke the cool mottled skin
of her arm, skin which was once
soft as breathing
but has toughened with age,
the garment now, not of passion,
but of something grave,
full of pity. Too soon
we must return to a house
filled only with the smell
of cut flowers dying