I was loading the dishwasher when the clinic rang.
‘I don’t know how to say this,’ she said,

which seemed a strange opening
sentence for a medical professional,
‘… but did you use a sperm donor three years ago? Vial 2360?’

‘Yes,’ I said. I didn’t particularly like thinking
about the donor. It wasn’t something I thought about.

‘Well – and we’ve had several meetings
about the protocol around this – it’s unprecedented, you see…’
She sounded like she was vaping.

‘Obviously we vet all our donors, there’s a long form,
we meet them in person but, of course, we can’t know
what they will go on to do… in the future.’

‘What do you mean?’ I said.

‘He’s… The Radiator Killer.’

I put the rinse-aid down.

‘You know,’ she went on, ‘That man
who chained those girls to boiling hot radiators
then cut out their tongues and led them around on leashes
like dogs? The police called us, apparently, he donated sperm
to multiple clinics over a period of thirty years.’

I grabbed my laptop, searching ‘sperm’ in my emails.

‘Did you say vial 2360?’

‘It’s a shock,’ she said.

‘We used 2361.’

Her voice was replaced by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
I pressed start on the dishwasher.

‘Okay, thanks for waiting.
2361 is a completely different donor,
please disregard everything I’ve told you, have a nice day.’

‘Wait… did 2361 do anything bad?’

‘I’m sorry but I’m not able to divulge private information.
I’m sure he’s lovely. Excuse me,
I need to make another call.’

from Ambush at Still Lake (Carcanet, £11.99)

Caroline Bird is a poet and playwright who was brought up in Leeds before moving to London in her teens. She has seven previous volumes of poetry published by Carcanet. Her sixth collection, The Air Year, won the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2020 and was shortlisted for the Polari Prize and the Costa Prize. Her fifth collection, In These Days of Prohibition, was shortlisted for the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize and the Ted Hughes Award. A two-time winner of the Foyles Young Poets Award, her first collection Looking Through Letterboxes was published in 2002 when she was 15. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 2002 and was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2001 and the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2008 and 2010. She was one of the five official poets at the 2012 London Olympics. In 2013, Caroline was shortlisted for Most Promising New Playwright at the Off-West-End Awards. In 2015, her re-twisted telling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz premiered at Northern Stage, and in Spring 2022 her play Red Ellen, about the life and work of Ellen Wilkinson, was produced by Northern Stage, Nottingham Playhouse and Royal Lyceum Theatre. Her Selected Poems, Rookie, was published in 2022, and in 2023 she won a Cholmondeley Award. Ambush at Still Lake, published by Carcanet in paperback and eBook, gathers together poems about marriage, lesbian parenthood, addiction, recovery, and “the ambush of real life that occurs in the stillness after the happy ending.”
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Read Caroline’s blog about the collection