what is entitlement to an American fetus –
a womb lined in hundred-dollar bills,
a mother who doesn’t know she’s vulnerable
sitting in a gold tower, picking out a golden
goblet for her prenatal vitamins. this isn’t
evidence-based – it’s a whim of the tax-slashed,
a sudden shift in mood, like telling the chef it’ll be
Indian, not Chinese tonight (never say
they don’t appreciate diversity).
this fetus will have a life made for TV.
it’s easy enough to concoct, almost science-
based. take one part money, one part white,
close the still-developing ears,
shrink the hands even smaller, forbid speaking
if gay, transgender, or a girl, keep inside the
tower, never open the windows, train the fetus
to look people in the hairline, never the eye,
teach it the importance of its unborn name.
and the father? he’s standing at the top of the tower,
still trying to climb higher. he will never be
tall enough, according to his father. he’s been told
that he was a disappointment even as a fetus.
he thinks he can hear the people below laughing
at him from here, talking, saying he’s wrong.
he’ll do anything to make them stop.
he’s been told so many lies
he doesn’t know the meaning of language.
Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician, writer, and public health researcher who has lived and worked in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, and elsewhere. She is interested in social determinants of health, human rights, global public health, community-engaged research, and medical education. Irène is winner of the Bob Kaufman Book Prize and Yemassee Journal‘s Poetry Prize, and author of the book orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017) and poetry chapbook the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press & studio, 2014). She holds a BA in International Relations from the College of William & Mary and a MD from Vanderbilt University.
Inspiration: As a physician and poet I immediately thought about the importance of language in describing what we observe. I am particularly interested in health disparities, and the chosen words are clearly meant to undermine efforts to address equity. I wanted to capture the way in which cis, hetero, white, male entitlement is (re)created and passed on. I think this type of entitlement – and the willful ignorance it requires to be sustained – are an epidemic of their own, with devastating public health consequences.