CROSS-FERTILIZATION

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.

by Jeffrey Harrison

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