Two Poems [Debra Kang Dean]

You Don’t Say


On seeing the light
Of day, a fetus might cry:
If you will, feed us.


All my life I have
Wanted     transgendered     to be
Just one     engendered.


A cyanotype,
A diversity of hues—
Let’s dye. Versify.


Irony: How rich
that entitlement.  Shush
Money. In toto. Mint.


Hot Dam—don’t you love
A volcano, able bothered. Who’s
Not vulnerable?


Evidently base-
Less hearsay. O, say, see it?
Evidence, (broad) based.


Knowledge undone is
Wisdom: To apply science, based
In this, this, and that.


Whole Cloth: A Trans(en)gendering

Evidence-based science

Vulgar babble,
Entitlement’s Tower Babel’s
Hell, no(t) diversity.

                    Feat us,
Says Clotho; a name abased is


Debra Kang Dean teaches in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program and is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, including Totem: America (Tiger Bark Press, forthcoming in 2018).

Inspiration: Seeing the distorted use of the phrase “community standards and wishes” was a kind of déjà vu that goaded me to take up the challenge. I like it when an invitation to work in a received form—I chose the haiku sequence and the rondelet—affords an opportunity to enact civil disobedience.

Science-based ethical consciousness seeks same [Elizabeth Gross]

Hellooo, potential soul-mates! A little about me: ever since I was a fetus
I’ve felt most comfortable underwater—we all start out transgender
mer-folk after all, with gills and tails—suddenly vulnerable
to everyone and everything when we hit the air. Entitlement
begins here, begins early, with a slap. Yet, for some, an evidence-based
approach eventually reveals that others exist, and there is a diversity

of consciousness to color in the lines drawn by our diversity
of physical bodies. I start with my own example as a fetus
but really I’m looking for someone older, awake to the evidence-based
world around them—I mean, the end of the world. A woman, transgender
or non-binary individual because I can’t even with the entitlement
of straight cisgender men. How are they still talking? How invulnerable

to shame? Are they actually convinced that they’re the vulnerable
ones in this society? Digging in their heels so the new “diversity
hire” can’t put on the same bad suits? Whining entitlements
are un-American!
Hate-watching RuPaul’s Drag race from a fetal
position, tweeting rage, kept up at night by fantasies of transgender
people using the same bathrooms as their wives. An evidence-based

analysis reveals zero threat to cis straight men, but evidence-based
studies do show our culture slowly changing as the vulnerable
claim more space, more time (shout out to you activist honeys!) Transgender
women of color are still targets of violence but we wear DIVERSITY
IS STRENGTH on tee shirts sometimes, right? Now it’s me in the fetal
position—the world is too much/not enough right now—aren’t we entitled

to feel a little bit okay sometimes? No? Not ever? Am I even entitled
to a we here, in this divided moment? I want an evidence-based
takedown of the language of authority. I want a language-less fetus
culturally speaking, a fresh start. Let’s pretend we’re all vulnerable
here (because we actually are) and also recognize a diversity
of strengths as strength, remake ourselves in the image of a new transgender

god. To recap: I want to find a girlfriend (broadly defined). Transgender
non-binary genderqueer femme tomboy yay! (I know, I know, my entitlement
is showing.) My references will attest to my loyalty and candor. I offer a diversity
of first date suggestions, crowdsourced and vetted—truly an evidence-based
approach to dating. Let’s trade anxiety dreams without touching, get vulnerable
and cry for a while, on the floor, separately, with NPR on, in the fetal

position. Too much? I’ll call you fetus if you call me science. We’re all entitled
to evidence-based pet names that reflect our true diversity—
transgender, cisgender, anygender the heart can hold, make vulnerable again.


Elizabeth Gross is the author of DEAR ESCAPE ARTIST, a collaboration with visual artist Sara White published by Antenna in 2016. You can find more about the chapbook along with other poems and projects at

Inspiration: Writing a sestina was exactly my second thought (the first was wordless rage) when this story first broke. Also, this poem could double as my (mostly true) online dating profile.


Light Bulb Dancing [Beth Sherman]

The fetus only spoke to us in the early morning hours when the apartment was dead quiet. This was understandable. It was, after all, in a vulnerable position – completely at the mercy of Brianna’s whims.

“Bicycle teapot,” it said.

“Hat starlight fish.”

Never more than two or three words at a time.

I wrote everything down so we wouldn’t forget.

Brianna wanted to call CNN. She figured maybe they’d pay to get Jake Tapper over here to have viewers listen in. We’d made a science-based, evidence-based discovery and there should be some compensation involved. I disagreed strenuously. No amount of money could compensate for lost privacy, although as Brianna pointed out, babies were expensive as shit.

“What should we name it?” I asked.

“Gender is a societal construction,” Brianna replied. She’d been a doctoral candidate in English before the government decided higher education was an unnecessary entitlement and cut her program’s funding.

“Still, we should have some possibilities ready. What do you think of Delilah or Aaron?”

“Too Biblical. Besides, we need a neutral name. In case the baby is transgender.”

“Light bulb dancing,” said the fetus. It had a low, raspy voice that sounded like broken gravel.

We were lying in the baby’s area – one corner of the living room that we’d painted yellow and decorated with a stuffed caterpillar, blocks and a diversity of plants.

I put my ear on Brianna’s stomach.

“What do you think it’s trying to tell us?”

Her eyes glittered oddly. “That it’s strange out here. That maybe baby doesn’t want to know what happens next.”

“Lovely child,” she whispered, stroking her belly. “You are so beautiful and smart.”

“Time blossom,” crooned the fetus.

“Exactly,” Brianna said and even in the dark I could see her smiling.

Beth Sherman is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose fiction has appeared in The Portland ReviewBlue Lyra ReviewSou’wester, and many other literary journals. She tweets at @bsherm36

Inspiration: What stood out to me most in the seven banned words was “fetus” and the idea took off from there. Each day of the Trump Administration feels surreal and I decided to write a story where the surreal becomes real.

Trees and Their Forbidden Things [Eileen Walsh Duncan]

Every fall the Douglas firs here drop
billions of cones, their blunt heads ramming the ground,
reddish husks intact. Like tight buds before bloom they lie,
scales sealed or agape over the seeds, each seed damp as sapwood,
the fetus of a giant.

Vulnerable to the nubbed nose of the Douglas squirrel,
to the matte beaks of finches, siskins, sparrows, and juncos, they wait.
Needle-like leaves of firs descend like a blanket
knit of air. Under this cover, the seeds can begin.

Fall’s diversity of sustenance – leaf, sap, cone,
branch, seed, larvae – becomes winter’s entitlement.
All things that flap and wriggle will feast.

We live intimately with these trees: the air they’ve scoured clean,
the earth they build of needle-leaves and hold vastly in roots,
the gray-green sky their hundreds of millions form above us.

Snug in our homes of framing, joists, and knotty furnishings,
we drowse oblivious as their intimate lives cycle –
each one a hermaphrodite, casting pollen while swelling cones —
often mislabeled as transgender.

Yet if we dig, taproots lead us to evidence-based thirst,
starting when one filament pops from the papery
wings of a seed, threading down in a lifelong
journey toward deepest water.

To believe that you’re reading this poem is to believe in wisps
traced on the sheer heart of a tree, or in an arrangement
of pixels shimmering on a screen.

To believe in the science-based is to believe in every mystery
as it unfolds pungently, concretely
towering into the light.


Eileen Walsh Duncan’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in the Pacific Northwest under innumerable Douglas firs.

Inspiration: Seven words have now been given far more power than if they had languished in the pages of a budget request.


Five Months Vulnerable [Burleigh Mutén]

Entitlement never entered my mind.
I was pregnant, five months vulnerable
when a doctor suggested I have an abortion.
This is why we do amniocentesis, he said.

I was pregnant, five months vulnerable,
an extra X chromosome in every cell.
This is why we do amniocentesis, he said.
This fetus will develop breasts in his teens.

An extra X chromosome in every cell.
No real concept of diversity in 1984.
This fetus will develop breasts in his teens.
No words: pangender or transgender.

No real concept of diversity in 1984,
a science-based, legal procedure, that’s all.
No words: pangender or transgender.
No social, evidence-based research, just

a science-based, legal procedure, that’s all
when a doctor suggested I have an abortion.
No social, evidence-based research, just
entitlement never entered my mind.


Burleigh Mutén’s verse novel, Miss Emily, is based on the lively, loyal friendship Emily Dickinson enjoyed with the children in her neighborhood. Mutén is the former publisher of Hands of the Goddess Press, the smallest of presses with one title, Return of the Goddess engagement calendar, which was distributed internationally in the early nineties.

Inspiration: I immediately thought, I can write a poem with the words fetus and diversity in one sentence, that nightmare experience of 34 years ago still begging to be put onto the page. I chose pantoum to capture the haunting, repetitive thoughts that are borne of shock and loss. The brutally honest, brave expansion of gender definition is one dimension of culture where we can see growth in these “modern” times.


Ghazal for Cinetherapy [Jennifer Litt]

When the election left me vulnerable & in a state of lord have mercy,
I watched Carol & Moonlight for some over-the-rainbow sexual diversity,

& what felonious politicians & Putin stole from us females & Hillary,
I retrieved in The Danish Girl via severed penis, such surgical diversity,

such evidence-based bravery when a gentle man risks his life for the lady
inside, the transgender fetus. Room & Spotlight exposed sexual-abuse diversity.

I insist on control over my privates & my private life. I’m guzzling Pinot Gris,
ignoring science-based studies about pickling my liver, but alcoholic diversity

is one of my social circle’s specialties. We suffer our depression, slurp martinis
or microbrews & watch movies in the dark. Entitlement, Jen? No, call it diversity.


Jennifer Litt is the author of the chapbook, Maximum Speed through Zero, published in 2016 by Blue Lyra Press in its Delphi Series, Volume 2, and her poems have appeared in several journals and magazines, including Gulf StreamLuminaMixed FruitNaugatuck River ReviewnycBigCityLit and Stone Canoe.

Even Muzzled, I Speak [Devon Balwit]


by nature, I have tried, at times,
to hide the fact, head shaved,
black leather armor, practicing
pain in the mirror until I could
bear it and not flinch. yet for all that,
the fact of it remains, decade after
decade, filaments that reach
through my whole being,
tender mycelium.


wanting to be a good mother, I
tight-rope-walked ever and always
between encouraging self-love
and discouraging selfishness
in my children: human, we are entitled
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of whatever
harms no other. also human, we slip
towards believing we have it coming to us,
the biggest piece of the pie we can wrangle.


genetic, linguistic, artistic
melting pot / salad bowl,
cross-pollination, cross-fertilization,
Jewish / Gentile, old-world, new,
an eternal Columbian exchange…


in photographs, the children of friends,
friends themselves, morph over time,
a shifting of external to match internal.
I train myself to use appropriate names, pronouns.
I do this because I love them.


I have carried three to term, lost
two more to miscarriage, and every
time, full as I was with their squirming
and kicking, I celebrated a woman’s
right to choose. we decide to bear
or not to bear. we women.


through the senses, through the
accumulation of days, the accretion
of years, through lived experience,
out in the world, among others,
testable, verifiable


testable, verifiable,
our inheritance from the brave thinkers
who have preceded us,
who have bucked convention,
often at the risk of life and livelihood,
to deliver unpleasant truths—
          species are in decline
          the earth is warming
          the ice is melting
          we are still learning how interconnected we all are
          time is running out

Devon Balwit loves her part of the planet and all the words in her language.