by Kelly McQuain
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My brother phones to ask a favor,
tells me he's shooting
blanks—his troops too small a tribe
to storm the cervix gate—
glossing with an awkward laugh
his thwarted desire to procreate,
says So I was wondering, if you'd like, maybe,
donate some sperm—an idea he tosses out
like bathwater. I hesitate.
He adds, What? You wanna get paid?
A joke? A smack in the face?
Meaning double-crosses intention. It has
since boyhood, when we shared a room
but not the private paths
our thoughts, separated, strayed.
Dad's got cancer, my brother reminds me.
You're the only family DNA.
His proposal leaves me flummoxed—
waylaid. I'm balancing miscarriages
against second marriages:
Is it right to create something
that can be taken away?
I looked at my spunk under a microscope once
back in college when my med-student roommate
brought his new equipment home. Patient, I let him
stethoscope my heart (I had one), take my pulse (it drummed),
before the two of us jerked off onto glass slides
to watch our tadpoles flick like manic commas
as we tuned the scope's lens to 400 MAG.
I felt as close to that roommate as a brother,
told him what a Catholic schoolgirl once said,
how each time a boy masturbates "he spews death
on countless millions" and we laughed at all the times
we'd pleasured ourselves through mass genocide.
I spend a month thinking of what legal papers
we might draw. I daydream about one of my castaways
alive and rooting inside my sister-in-law.
My son. No, nephew.
My brother's son—or niece.
I teem with the possibility
of carrying on the family line.
But when I call my brother he tells me
He switched to boxers.
A lab fertilized his wife’s egg.
It's growing, alive.
My brother doesn't need me
after all. We can keep on ghosting
through each other's lives.... Ten years slip by.
My brother doesn't phone to ask any favors.
He had a boy our father never got to hold.
Our hellos and how-are-yous are occasional tithes
offered at birthdays and funerals
followed by awkward goodbyes.
Sometimes I see children—
other brothers. The way they wrestle,
bodies sweaty, getting knotted,
steeped in tension and smells
—armpits, peanut butter, sour milk—
until, with a twist, one gets the upper hand:
stronger pins weaker, makes him cry uncle.