The Un(h)armed Wo(man) (Tina Cane)

The un(h)armed wo(man)     is transgender is flower

is fetus steeped in bio-diversity     of vulnerable depths

of mother    no less science-based than the best

evidence of capacity for love     bestowing un-

conditional dignity on all     our American entitlement

of standards and wishes


Tina Cane is the founder/director of Writers-in-the-Schools, RI and serves as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband and three children. She is also the author of Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books) and Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante.

Inspiration: I am writing a cycle of short poems called The Un(h)armed Man which explore human nature, culture and human responses to culture. After I wrote this poem using the banned words, I realized that some of these words actually form the heart of the cycle’s concerns.


Dissent (Jen Rouse)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg swings on a string
from my rearview mirror. She is evidence-based and
smells like bubble gum. Once I had to finish the job
of miscarrying a ball of cells. At the drive-up
window, the pharmacist giving me the pills
looked stricken.  “I have to ask if you are pregnant,” she said.
“Yes.  I mean, no.  I mean…”  so vulnerable, we are all here
dying in our vulnerability, and I had to finish this process.
Pharmacist: Do you know these pills will abort a fetus?  A fetus.     A fetus, fetus, fetus, FETUS!

Me:  Really, a fetus?  A fetus, huh?  Do you know that science-
based research wouldn’t even really consider this
a pregnancy?  And I’m a lesbian.  Just think.  In Iowa.
This kind of diversity!  A fetus!  Can you believe
they might let me carry one?!  Our schools even protect
our transgender children.  Here.  In Iowa.  I might’ve had
that perfect child.   But the science-based evidence
is this: my body is finishing off a cluster of diversity dust.
Pharmacist: Oh.

Ruth kept banging her head against my window with precision,
just as she had spent her ACLU years placing language into a brief—
like a chef would micro-greens with a tweezer, for that prefect dish
of diversity.  No room for error.  That was Ruth Bader Ginsburg
making your civil rights salad.

To be cared for in every vulnerable moment is not entitlement.
But even our heroes live into error and moments of entitlement.
RBG hangs from my rearview mirror, fading.  While the poets
abort these censorship fetuses, exploding the silence that Lorde
taught would never protect us.


Jen Rouse loves her Thunder Cunt t-shirt, lives in Iowa, is a lesbian, has a 12- year-old superstar daughter, and runs a Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Find her at or on Twitter @jrouse

Inspiration: I have been very privileged to have been allowed the language to live a life of relative freedom as a lesbian in Iowa.  I needed to write this poem to push myself and perhaps others to think how we as poets need to move past our places of comfort, as there is still so much and even more crucial work to do.


vedfest (Kevin J. O’Conner)

vulnerable, the skeleton is laid out on a marble slab
          the surface of each bone disfigured
                    in a slightly different way

skin covers many blemishes

the entitlement of cells to demand regeneration
          distracts oxygen from its worst impulses

heavy water is an ever-present threat

diversity of playlists
          is a sure-fire recipe
                    for road-trip conflict

we may need to call into service
the box of old tapes in the back seat

poor little fetus:
          they all want to protect you
                    but are too scared to talk about you

then again, your wrath is legendary…

The new CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with [sic] community standards and wishes, and in tandem of [sic] the inviolable tenets of self-regulated thought and willful ignorance. The inalienable right of the emperor to maintain the façade of invincibility over his rotting flesh shall not be compromised by adherence to fact, integrity, or the inherent fragility of creamsicles.

the evidence-based approach to love
          is doomed to failure

biology can be easily measured and catalogued
but the spaces between cells remain misunderstood

the science-based approach
          has its own shortcomings

but continues to seek understanding
(viz. an authoritative definition of chemistry)

          we too often focus on topography

when we should believe
in the expression of truth


Kevin J. O’Conner is an emerging poet whose main claim to fame is that his cats have never let him get a full night’s sleep.

Inspiration: “vedfest” is something of an impressionistic piece—sort of stream of consciousness, but not quite—with each part based on whatever was brought to mind by each of the seven words, loosely connected by the overall theme of science or biology.

America Ain’t Easy (Adrian Blevins)

when the saw mills are gone cause the Internet is plastic
& the granny quilts are heating pads from China
& somebody’s once-fetus needs surgery & would get it
if people had hearts in the form of health insurance
but don’t because they despise the poor & women
& immigrants & African Americans & the transgender
& gay & things that are science-based & evidence-based
& all I’m saying is, America ain’t at all easy

when you must think non-stop about stupid Trump
& other grotesqueries such as what a dead goose
in the form of a country looks like & what a dead goose
in the form of a country feels like lolling here inside you
like a long-necked stone in the pit of something
like your stomach but worse such as your throbbing
heart of diversity I guess where once you’d hoped
to learn to darn socks at least metaphorically

& arrange winterberries on farmhouse mantels
to soothe the grandkids who were to soothe you back
during the more vulnerable senior years. But now
grandkids are an entitlement for the rich you guess
& thus you don’t want them anymore because
what if they needed surgery—what if they had
just one eye—what if they wanted the story of America
& all you had was a little porridge & venom & spit?


Adrian Blevins is the author of Appalachians Run Amok, winner of Two Sylvia Press’s Wilder Prize, forthcoming spring 2018; Live from the Homesick Jamboree; The Brass Girl Brouhaha; and a co-edited collection of essays, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia. She teaches at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Inspiration: The Trump Administration’s very scary authoritarian bent inspired me to write this poem, and really has me in perpetual freak-out mode.