Since a few people have asked, after I performed some spoken word poems at Fertility Fest, here’s a recording of the poem Zero, which I did as part of The Invisible Man event at the Barbican.

ZERO, by Elis Matthews

You can listen to the whole of the Nihal programme on BBC Radio 5 Live, which includes a lengthy chat with Elis and Sheila, here.

And here’s the words of the poem, for people who prefer to read!

Thanks for the love and support as we continue to live out our story. We gain confidence to tell it from this community that shares our belief that stories of struggle matter, that it’s okay to grieve the loss of infertility. We feel less alone every time we speak out, and we pray that others will find the strength to let others in to their difficult stories.


That was the word that stuck out
and stung my ears
like a wasp buzzing across the doctor’s consulting room.

‘You have zero sperm’
Erm… come again? how many?
Zero, none, not any?

It’s a funny word that
and in the context
of sperm where one might expect
a few million
or at least hundreds and thousands
of swimmers sprinkled
in the samples I’d deposited
in the closeted
hospital offices
which in some provinces are called a ‘masturbatorium’
no that’s a true story – umm…

But back to that room and that wasp and that
and to say I’m surprised
that you’ve analysed my supplies
and couldn’t find any little guys
nothing but ZERO
well, that analysis
leaves me in paralysis
and I just sit there in gobsmacked awe
eyes glazed over
gaping jaw
which just about closes
as you repeat the diagnosis

‘You have zero sperm’

And to give her her due
the GP does
(as GPs often fail to do)
put it in laymans terms
zero sperms

At least it’s clear – whoa
did she really just say zero?

It’s a funny number
absolute, final, clinical, cold
somehow less than nothing, zilch, zip, ZERO
and though it’s just a number on a page
it hits me like a judgement
like a wave
pointing the finger straight at me
as if this infertility
which is mine
which belongs to me
is an indictment of my masculinity
and so it cuts the core of my identity
for as it happens I’ve always had no sperm in me
zero nada
just like lady gaga used to say
‘Baby, I was born this way’

So is this who I am? how I was made?
The ZERO man? a nobody? a shade?

And besides the wave of shock I am dismayed
The dreams are put to bed, the plans we made
of baby names and timeframes all are laid
to rest. And things get even squirmier
when I begin to google AZOOSPERMIA
(The fancy name for having Zero Sperm
A word I wish I’d never have to learn.)

And yes, I know, it sounds bloody ridiculous
A ZOO should have at least one hippopotamus!
But this one is
an empty jar of jizz
a gun without bullets
Prosecco without fizz
Jazz without rhythm
all boiling down to

A funny place that
It sounds like a literal dead end
The end of the rocket countdown
The end of the road for our plans of parenthood
The end of the dream.

But ZERO is also level ground
rock bottom from which to build,
a starting place, a foothill,
to reconstruct life as it is
to come out of the closet
face bloodied and
face the muddied waters of existence
to walk honestly

ZERO is a beginning
from which I think I can start living.

[Audio courtesy of BBC Radio 5 Live / Words © Elis Matthews, 2018]