While the three of us were exploring the river bed, Jonathan L. examined his semen under the microscope. He told me this several weeks later. He had intended to do so for a long time, he said, but never before had the impulse struck him when there was opportunity. (Curious timing of opportunity, I thought, during that, our last month together, and our only sexless one.) He said he’d been surprised at the liveliness of the sample, fascinated at observing what his scientific training and adolescent researches should have led him to expect.

How long had he had to squeeze or rub to produce the sample? He didn’t remember—it was all in the true spirit of inquiry, though. But he dismissed my suggestion that, had I known what he was up to, I should have laid under the enlarging eye some of my own lining, perhaps identified the insidious yeast.

He said he didn’t think he’d have liked the look of that.

Why not? I asked. It might, like other ills, be beautiful.

But that wasn’t his point, he said. His curiosity was never merely, or even mainly, aesthetic. Anyway, morbid was morbid, and yeast was yucky. His fishes and darts, on the other hand, were the elusive stuff of life, defying the art of cartoonist or etcher.

There in the abandoned playroom-laboratory of our hosts’ stone home, he had felt almost humble.

I stopped my laugh with a smile. It takes yeast to make bread, I said.


Kathryn Paulsen’s prose and poetry have been published in New Letters, West Branch, the New York Times, et al., and may currently be read in Humber Literary Review, The Stinging Fly, and Saint Ann’s Review, among others. For fiction and playwriting she’s been awarded residence grants at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Ledig House, and other retreats. She currently lives in New York City, but, having grown up in an Air Force family, has roots in many places. See her occasional musings in a variety of forms at

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