Nineteen Eighty-Four Redux [Guillermo Filice Castro]

Poor Winston Smith,

fetus-like, words fed to him

via pneumatic tube. Through it

the Party speaks.

Diversity of facts negated.

Twisted. We must remain

firm in our entitlement

to un-feel the vulnerable,

un-person the transgender,

The Binary Party believes.

Evidence-based,

Science-based?—DELETE ALL.

Telescreens light up again,

an orange explosion

of never-ending tweets.

The glass warps but will not break.

 

Guillermo Filice Castro is a poet and photographer. He’s the author of a chapbook, Agua, Fuego (Finishing Line Press) and a recipient of an E-S-B fellowship from the Poetry Project. An immigrant from Argentina, he lives in New York City.

Inspiration: Put simply, this administration’s attempts at controlling language (among other things) are nothing short of Orwellian.

Lab Coat Blues [Kate Bernadette Benedict]

Oh, I got those science-based, gotta-cry blues.
I said, those wretched research blues.
I ain’t cured nothin’, that’s my only news.

Oh, I got me evidence-based blues.
’Cause evidence all proves my life’s a ruse.
No gal will ever see my name in them Who’s Who’s.

It’s humblin’, yes, humblin’. I’m vulnerable these days.
Sing it loud: it’s humblin’. I’m in a vulnerable daze.
My lab rat’s double-crossed me. She don’t run my maze.

That rat was born’d transgender. A most intriguin’ thing.
Yes that he rat was a she rat. She ain’t got that shwing.
A few swings of a scalpel knife and off went that thing.

Now she wants a litter, little babies, yessir!
She wants little babies. There’ll be no rat fetus for her.
She got no place to grow ’em down under all that fur.

Oh, I got those science-based sad-rat blues,
I said, those wretched lab rat blues.
My star lab rat is pinin’, that’s my only news.

Entitlement!—badass blunder that I made.
Assumed I was entitled even tho’ no dues were paid.
No rat’s in my maze, I ain’t makin’ no grade.

I’m takin’ off my lab coat, I’m quittin’ this life.
Diversity’s a thing these days. I’ll live a different life.
Goodbye to rats, bye petri dish, bye knife.

I got those science-based, gotta-cry blues.
Them sad-rat, barren-rat blues.
I ain’t good for nothin’; that’s my only news.

 

Kate Bernadette Benedict, of Riverdale, New York, is the author of Earthly Use: New and Selected Poems (2015). www.katebenedict.com

Inspiration: These are difficult times and the banned words are difficult words, prosaic and highly charged. So why not try something funny? I figured blues stanza would be utterly daft, and it was, and it led me to this nutty tale of a lab researcher and his sad and stubborn rat.

 

Banned Together [E.C. Messer]

“Has it ever occurred to you,” he said, “that the whole history of English poetry has been determined by the fact that the English language lacks rhymes?”
—the poet Ampleforth, George Orwell,
1984

 

It’s an old story, really: the most vulnerable
in society chopped up and fed to entitlement,
lumps in the gravy beaten and smoothed of diversity.
Weird, queer, clever, other, feminine, transgender—
erased from personhood like the fetus
whose autonomy is invented, not evidence-based.

This form the troubadours made to address another anti-science-based
world, storming the gates of their Southern cities—vulnerable
not to attack but to provocative creation, a fetus
wrapped inside a womb of music. Their mastery was entitlement
to wander, to woo indiscriminately, to press transgendered
melodies onto a court system contrived against diversity.

Our own courts set up, supposedly, to preserve diversity
and compose judgments literally evidence-based.
They fail when they hesitate to defend the transgender;
with our elected nobility, they become vulnerable
when they weaponize their entitlement
and threaten to side against me with my fetus—

            do we really need another fetus?
Un-motherhood is a kind of diversity
that I claim as my entitlement,
gratefully able to access science-based
protections against the fertility to which I am vulnerable.
Leave us the self-determination of our bodies. The transgender

were always transgender—
you can’t demand a fetus
you can’t stand, turn around and make it vulnerable
to your demurral of diversity.
That hatred isn’t evidence-based,
it’s just another form of entitlement.

If freedom of language is an entitlement,
then I speak transgender:
this spectrum of identity is science-based,
generated inside each fetus
to reward diversity,
to render the human experiment less vulnerable.

The tendency of evidence-based words to escape is their entitlement—
rigid thought is most vulnerable to breaking. The future is transgender
and non-binary—each new fetus reveals not sameness, but diversity.

 

E.C. Messer lives in San Francisco and Pismo Beach, CA with her husband and four cats, one of whom has a bionic heart. She would like very much to know you.

Inspiration: Being a relentless form that (despite its Occitan origins) forces a sort of rhyming through repetition onto what Ampleforth so accurately identifies as our language’s resistance to rhyme, the sestina creates a dual protest energy—thematic and sonic—which seemed to me wholly appropriate for this project.

Solstice Alternative [Gianna Russo]

The beautyberry is vanishing
in the side yard, vulnerable
to Florida’s December,
the thermometer and science-based
lapses in climate.
Leaves droop, hot gray fetuses,
suspended. Branches poke up,
round out, transgendered,
purple-gemmed, but dwindling.
The soil is not soil
but sand, sans the entitlements
of minerals. Here: something’s waning.
Something’s fading.
Like the beautyberry.
Someplace else
creates a diversity
of solstices, longest nights, shortest days,
all of it evidence-based and pagan.

 

Gianna Russo is the author of Moonflower, winner of a Florida Book Award bronze medal and founding editor of YellowJacket Press (russo15.wordpress.com and www.yellowjacketpress.org).

Inspiration: As an organic gardener, I rely on science and evidence to help my plants thrive. A lifetime lover of the natural world, I got my inspiration by looking at the native beautyberry plant in my yard that has been slowly, mysteriously dying. Somehow, its death seems to mime the slow assault on truth we are witnessing. (By the way, in a similar instance, in 2015 our governor, Rick Scott, issued an edict that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection could not use the words “climate change” or “global warming” in official documents. Still can’t.)

Medical school blues—anatomy of the world [Lind Grant-Oyeye]

This, certainly, is a lesson on decay,
the decomposition of a body,
which once held strength in its toes.
Its swagger now vulnerable—under
the knife that pierces,
as thunder pierces the still of birds—
they used to be free, although vulnerable.
This body, made from a fetus, grown into its own—
now bows to inexperienced hands searching
for the meaning of evidence-based medicine—
searching for science-based love songs—
their mouths shout out to lovers across the old room.
Their hands trembling, hold the diversity of scalpels,
making pliable, skin—
used to be tough, like grandma’s morning grits—
her sense of entitlement, that we must all eat daily
that which remains most unpalatable.
her sense of accomplishment, when she first learned to spell
“TRANSGENDER” correctly.

 

Lind Grant-Oyeye is a Nigerian-born multi-award winner. She is the recipient of the UHRSN human rights poetry and the Irish Times writing awards

Inspiration: Growing up in a country where free speech was suppressed for a while, due to military dictatorship, I believe any rumors which suggests the banning of words, should be taken seriously, until they are deemed unfounded.

The Expectant Mother [Alexander Cavaluzzo]

The transgender fetus wades in amniotic fluid
      Like a cube of ham suspended in aspic
      Vulnerable to a guest’s sterling silver fork

The OB/GYN detected a penis
      Under the gelid gel of a wand,
      But, the Expectant Mother knows better

A sense of entitlement washes over her
      For the evidence-based assumption that her
      Fetus must be transgender

The evidence-based assumption includes:
Her cravings for kale
      And yogurt
      And salmon
      And, when the transgender fetus has a cheat day,
      Non-Dairy Häagen-Dazs®

How marvelous, the Expectant Mother thinks, to
      Introduce diversity
      Into her cisgender brood

At the OB/GYN, the Expectant Mother sees her Linea Nigra is pink
      Linea Rosea, rather
      Like a grosgrain ribbon hugging a gift

This is science-based confirmation
      To prove her conviction she’s
Carrying a transgender fetus
Think, a transgender fetus:
      Absolution for voting for
      Trump

 

Alexander Cavaluzzo is a writer, artist, and propagandist based in the East Village. 

Inspiration: Absorbing the 7 words, I gravitated towards the ones with the most humanity: “transgender” and “fetus”, so naturally the idea of a transgender fetus sprung out to me for its oddity and charm. But how can a fetus be transgender? Intersexuality might be detected in the womb, but not gender identity. So then it must be a projection…but who would project that? That’s when the Expectant Mother revealed herself to be the main character of the piece, and the desire for a transgender fetus based on stereotypical suppositions became apparent. White liberalism is at the core of the poem—naive attitudes towards marginalized groups that do more harm than good; reliance on and reinforcement of damaging stereotypes; the idea that one in power can use someone marginalized to absolve themselves from sin. The poem, in the end, is very much a reaction to the majority of white women who voted for Trump.

Words [Marjorie Maddox]

O comrade of mightier-than-the-sword, more vulnerable
since vulnerable is the scythe declaring science (base
and lowly, striped of its warrior prince title) meant
for the gallows or chopping block of evidence. Based
on what? Emperor with no clothes, who abhors the diversity
of your letters, who squirms at the fetus

of consummated thought; naked dictator, who won’t defeat us,
armed with our transgendered words, no longer vulnerable
to such sharp taunts and poison proclamations. Divert! This city
of syllables is stronger than He-Who-Abandons-Science based
on “very stable genius,” on slaughtering evidence based
on fact; thoughtcrimes stoned, entitlements

drowned in a  river overflowing with entire bins
of oil. Give us your huddled in the womb, your fetus
waiting to speak freely her own evidence based
(not!) on your golf-course delegations vulnerable
to who arrives first at the Country Club of No Science-Based
Utterances Allowed, let alone parsing diversity.

KKK? Transgender? He stutters, “Yes/maybe/no”; no diversity
of lack of experience, though, bought-and-sold titles meant
to pretend homage not to science but the “base.”
O words, which need not throw out fetus
with the bathwater, which can still care for the vulnerable
with the strong, which can still narrate protests as evidence based

on reality, not fake news. O words based on evidence.
O words, which can still respect the diversity
of faiths, which, unafraid of being vulnerable,
can whisper, shout, sing, entitle truths meant
for all, even the silent, even the fetus
cradled in the transcribed, deleted, or science-based

questions of elementary science, based
on the universal questions of who we are, base-evidence
collected not as propaganda, but as discussion. Fetus,
transgender, entitled are not the enemy. Embrace the diversity
of thought and speak clearly words meant
for dialog not destruction. Be true. Be vulnerable

but stronger than swords; diverse in your advocacy
for the downcast; outspoken for science and faiths.
Base every powerful, vulnerable word on entitled love.

 

Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry, the short story collection What She Was Saying, 4 children’s books, and the anthology Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor); see www.marjoriemaddox.com

Inspiration: Seven words forbidden for use by the CDC—how could I not respond with a modified sestina: six words—plus one more slipped in—that refused to be silenced?

 

Scientists claim there’s an explanation for everything [Joanna Lee]

these words are banned from poems
and budgets and all legal documents except
essays on graduate-level metaphysics, for fear
they will transgender your language, turn
the vulnerable butterflies of you
into slow, solid meat.

while you aren’t watching, whole continents ghost
down from someone else’s idea
of heaven; when you look up
for salvation, it will have become
just another melting fetal icecap, being born
into a sea of dry cocoons.

it happens on a tectonic scale; you won’t see
the salt levels rise. they’ll weave
lullabyes from the skins
of polar bears, leaving out
the pink fists and god dreams
of diversity, so you’ll be left

with so much more to forget. so much
of entitlement, of science-
and evidence-based metamorphosis:
take your weak, your poor, your different
and shove them back
in some other womb.

 

Never having formally studied English or creative writing past high school, Joanna Lee instead focused on the sciences, earning her MD from the Medical College of Virginia in 2007 and a further Master’s Degree in Applied Science (neuroscience) from the College of William and Mary in 2010. Her writing life focuses particularly on the overlap of creativity and healing, and her first chapbook, Dissections, was released in 2017 from Finishing Line Press.

Inspiration: As a doctor-scientist by training and a poet by vocation, I felt this word ban as a gut punch on every level, threatening not only our health but the health of our freedoms.

 

 

Keep Me Culturing [Joannie Stangeland]

In a Petri dish, words bloom, words culture,
culture blooms, words combine, compound
in the Petri dish, evidence based
on facts and the fact is there are words
for science based on study, built on acts
and observation—damn, even empathy
recorded, a diversity of words
vulnerable now to the kind of not-kind
entitlement I did not think
to mean America, the lid clamped down
on giving voice to the fetus words,
the transgender words stuffed into old suits
called normal, an artifice not art
when words we grew to count on
now an experiment redacted, results
left off the charts. In the dish we will
dish up new words, but the glass is cracking.

 

Joannie Stangeland has both a dictionary and a thesaurus and is not afraid to use them.

Inspiration: Censorship of words is disturbing (and Orwellian), but even more concerning to me is the censorship of identity and science, this intentional slippage backwards.

MDR-TB [Helen Townsend]

She believes me when
I tell her it isn’t personal.
We explain it’s evidence-based
that we have to watch her
take every dose
that she has to sit alone
in a hotel room we pay for
that she can’t leave
without a mask
that we have to test
all of her friends
at the shelter.
Science says TB floats in the air.
We tell her we don’t test
her for HIV because
she looks the part.
We tell her it is science-based.
We base our tests on science.
It is science-based to say
TB and HIV make each other worse
like lies plus zealotry.
She doesn’t like to be called vulnerable.
She worked
as a rodeo clown
until a bull threw her
into a fence.
She had a dentist
and all of her teeth
until the divorce.
She apologized to the fetus
for the bad luck
of no birth vs. birth into
fists and teeth flying.
She apologized once.
She says she doesn’t feel entitled
to forgiveness or praise.
She considers herself down on her luck.
We explain in our line of work
an entitlement is a promise
to the old ones for a roof
to the young ones for a chance.
For the promises that require money
a promise to provide the money.
We tell her it’s not just the poor.
Even lucky ones
can get TB.
Everyone breathes.
She worries about the
transgender woman
who slept on the cot next to her
worries about what she will do
worries if she will ever see her again.
They held hands
at night to go to sleep.
She tells us about
the diversity of sounds
on the street
how the animals and insects
trade places in the mind
how the wind smells
different in the sun
how boots in the alley
sound like snapping traps
how bathrooms with
room to turn around
and signage that says
whatever feel homey
how hallways
never feel kind
and how it’s been so long
since she had her own stove
that she’s afraid to turn it on.
The time she tried to boil
water for ramen
she meditated
on the flames and bubbles
until the bottom of the pan
crusted over
and the fire alarm went off
in a diversity of profanity
and the hotel manager
cursing the health department
and whores like her.
She asks if hate is science-based
or evidence-based.
She swallows her pills
and I leave
with a fist in my throat.

 

Helen Townsend, TB Nurse Consultant and poem writer, lives and works in Indianapolis. She tweets at @prsgrlks.
Inspiration: The inspiration for this poem came directly from my work. The woman who inhabits this poem, while fictional, embodies so many of the risk factors and the needs of our clients.