I Am My Own Transgender Fetus [Kim Dower]

My mother thought I was a lesbian
when I came home from college
wearing a flannel shirt fresh from a March
across the Boston Common, the ‘70s
no entitlement back then, no transgender
friend, we all hid inside our sleepless nights
smoking fat joints of science-based conclusions
rolling out our private stomach aches watching
evidence stack up higher than we could see.
I feel so vulnerable tonight, hungry for diversity–
where is my entitlement–I am my own
transgender fetus floating in a tank with no borders
banging my soft unformed skull into the glass ceiling
seeking any spray of light as our world rolls backward
over a grassless hill of mutant crickets button up
your collar until your mouth is invisible all evidence-based
science-based beautiful womb-faced lips erased
who doesn’t crave a chance to say banned words
hear their echo like vapor stain the wall of our lives
our slurred speech aching for clarity.


Kim Dower is the City Poet Laureate of West Hollywood through October, 2018.  She is the author of three collections of poetry, all published by Red Hen Press, with a fourth collection, Sunbathing on Tyrone Power’s Grave coming in the Spring of 2019.  www.kimdowerpoetry.com

Inspiration: As soon as I read the news story that seven words had been banned from use by the CDC, I wanted to use those words in a poem. Then I read about the CDC Poetry Project.  Perfect. My inspiration for the poem?  Shock, despair, and the pleasure of using newly banned words.


another epidemic [Irène Mathieu]

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.

A fetus in every garage [Carolee Bennett]

Instead of the automobile, America’s in love now with the fetus.
A new evidence-based government program supporting fetus
cultivation includes provisions for industrialized farming of the fetus.
To secure enough of a crop, farmers who decide to plant fetus
seeds in straight rows over at least nine acres will qualify for fetus
management grants. The casual grower, who tends to potted fetus
plants on a patio or fire escape, does not qualify for these fetus
entitlement funds. However, those with certain types of backyard fetus
gardens may petition the government for stipends under the Fetus
Homestead Act. Please note the application requires explicit fetus
biodiversity criteria to be met for the purpose of ensuring the fetus
will not be vulnerable to disease. Otherwise, all facilities for fetus
generation must comply fully with uniformity guidelines for the fetus.
These are in place (and will be enforced) to produce the exact fetus
consumers have come to expect with regard to taste, texture, fetus
hue, sex, and political affiliation. Documents verifying that every fetus
conforms to these stipulations must be made available to official fetus
inspectors upon request. If these agents discover onsite any fetus
that is transgender, for example, or a batch in which the fetus
falls outside the regulated palette, they are authorized to halt fetus
production immediately. Be aware, also, that playing music for the fetus
is not a science-based practice. Penalties may apply to this fetus
and any that enter the system without proper vetting. Registered Fetus
Watchers or others with information about violations to the fetus
code should alert authorities by calling our Tip Line. Each mature fetus
must be labeled with a sell-by date and packaged in a proper fetus
container. (We manufacture cartons for this specific purpose.) Fetus
program forms are available online and must be submitted by the fetus
deadline each quarter to receive credit for harvesting your fetus.
Incomplete paperwork will result in no payment for the fetus.


Carolee Bennett is an artist and poet living in Upstate New York, where—after a local, annual poetry competition—she has fun saying she has been the “almost” poet laureate of Smitty’s Tavern. She has an MFA in creative writing (poetry), works full-time as a writer in social media marketing and blogs at Good Universe Next Door.

Inspiration: In thinking about Sarah Freligh’s mention of the sestina on Facebook, I started to play with the banned words. As “fetus” landed at the end of the line, I decided to see what would happen if “fetus” sat at the end of each line. It got scary fast, as did everything since the 2016 election. This whole project seems inevitable in that terrifying light.


MAVA [Jennifer L. Knox]

Folks, our entitlement is vulnerable to the diversity of transgendered fetuses in this evidence-based and science-based country of ours. Look: my team’s collected shocking evidence that transgendered fetuses are entitled to our vulnerable diversity, and that’s wrong.

It’s the end of days! Grab ‘em by the fetus!

Honestly, I’m a very lonely man. So lonely, I don’t know how much lone. To know how much, I’d need other fetuses to touch my hands like on “Star Trek” and mind meld their entitlement with me. Then I’d probably tear up. The fetuses wouldn’t. They’d be standing across transgendered street, whipping chicken bones and pizza crusts at me, laughing their developing asses off.

Many very smart people call it an evidence-based, science-based cognitive impairment. They’re on the right track, baby. I was born this way.

Give me an inch, and I’ll take your fetus words, plus all the wordy words with glue on them. The evidence-based chicken bones. The science-based pizza crusts. The vulnerable transgendered cognitive impairment.

Did you know that Skippy Peanut Butter is 99% cold cream? That’s right. Who’s vulnerable now? [points at crowd, mouths “you”]

But hey, don’t cry for me, Argentina…wait, you wouldn’t? You’d [squints at teleprompter] skin me like a giant beaver?

No no no no no—delete “beaver”—we’ve all mind melded—our entitlement’s tight! Trust me: you’re gonna love the vulnerable way you look [take off hair and shakes it like a pom-pom—hair makes sleigh bell sounds. “Are you listenin’?”].

Listen! [points to the emergency exit door at the back of the cafeteria] if you can’t speak the song, it’s a no-evidence dance!


Jennifer L. Knox is the author of four books of poems. Her work has appeared four times in The Best American Poetry series as well as in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and American Poetry Review. The Los Angeles Book Review said of her most recent book, Days of Shame & Failure, “This panopoly of twenty-first century American human experience leaves the reader a different person.” She teaches at Iowa State University and is currently at work on a culinary memoir.

Inspiration: My inspiration for “MAVA” was the raging paranoia and idiocy that inspired this prohibition of language. And of all the words to “ban”! “Fetus”? Really? Parodying this shart geyser is my civic duty.


December 17, 2017 (Lisa Fay Coutley)

In line at the post office, no one’s less vulnerable
than the next to the heart’s heft, to the diversity
of ways we express missing. Still we feel entitled,
waiting to be helped: the elderly, the transgender,
the woman clutching a poster Xing the word fetus
on the corner outside the glass. I’d say, science-based

data shows, though I suppose she’d hear séance-based
when I really mean, we are all subject to, vulnerable
together yet alone in that, as well. She’ll deny a fetus
doesn’t have a soul, use the word murder to divert,
claiming that a baby’s parts are present, its gender
determined. & who am I to say she is not entitled

to her belief when my own sense of entitlement
makes me shake, my body having a science-based
response to a woman who’d see her transgender
child as an abomination rather than a vulnerable
human like each of us—with their own diverse
& real needs. She’d have me believe this fetus

is a baby, not a choice, & a baby (never say Fetus)
is born into a body chosen by god & not Entitled
to experience the human range, its Great Diversity
of emotions & constraints inside its Science-Based
brain made to bear suffering, though Vulnerable
is wrong. Binary is right. Never shall Transgender

be accepted, he said, even when genders cross
inside us, which is surely solid logic POTUS
endorses from his crooked office—venerable
man that he claims to be in his divine entitlement
which the literate world with its evidence-based
thinking cannot comprehend, despite such diverse

efforts. I digress. I mean, yes, despite our differences
we are here, waiting to mail love across vast bodies
of rock & water, at this USPS office established
by a governing body that continues to feed us
the divisive rhetoric that exacerbates our privilege
to such an extent that we can’t tolerate being exposed

to a diverse line of people who make us vulnerable
yet entitled because they’re “other”—not my gender,
not my color, not my fetus awaiting its science.

Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of Errata (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015) and In the Carnival of Breathing (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), and is an Assistant Professor of Poetry in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Inspiration: A few days ago I was standing in line waiting to mail a package to a friend, and the woman behind me (in a rather long line) grew audibly impatient, and I smiled at her and said, just think how much we must love one another to wait in line this way to mail packages to someone else as a way to alleviate the loneliness on both ends. She smiled, and told me that was a very nice way to think of it, and we discussed what we were mailing to whom, etc, and later in the day I saw the forbidden words circulating and married the experience at the post office with my refusal to be shut up by an administration that cannot be allowed to silence us.


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.


Hibernaculum (Lesley Wheeler)

Paper snowflakes, punchbowl, lecherous colleagues. A science-based
sun leaves the party early. Pissed off. Her allegations, evidence-based.

Lest she mount a solstitial harassment case, Mr. Entitlement
deducts words from her mouth. His trepidations, evidence-based.

Meanwhile, a chill propagates. Meanwhile, impeachment’s a fetus
refusing birth and other deportations. Evidence-based

bacteria could violate its airtight NDAs. A virulent diversity
infect it. For that bad baby, no due date’s in evidence. Based

on current models, however, he’s doomed. All syllables will be transgender.
All punctuation will be fluid. Contamination will proceed with haste.

Talk dirty to us, change. Wheel like a season. Winter’s always vulnerable
to sunlight’s disclosure. Words do return. Their germination’s evidence-based.


Lesley Wheeler’s books include Radioland and the chapbook Propagation.
Inspiration: When I wrote this broken ghazal I was sick as a dog, virally and existentially. Robert Macfarlane’s word of the day (12/18/17, “hibernaculum”) helped the fragments come together.