Even Muzzled, I Speak [Devon Balwit]

(vulnerable)

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.

(entitlement)

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.

(diversity)

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

(transgender)

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.

(fetus)

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.

(evidence-based)

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

(science-based)

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.

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Evidence-Based Sestina [Kelly Lenox]

Every breath makes us vulnerable
to what rides in on the current—a diversity
of specks, poisons, vital gases. Science-based
plans to limit mercury fumes, protect a fetus
from lead in drinking water, stop suicide of transgender
schoolchildren—these are no entitlements.

Or, wait—this nation’s founders claimed entitlement
to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. The vulnerable
among us inherited these rights. Though no transgender
man was apparently among them, no diversity
of skin color, income, or ability to nurture a fetus,
their claims were solid, as if science-based.

Limitations of eighteenth century science-based
knowledge didn’t slow them down. Entitlement
by birth to property and power was proper, a fetus
of England’s queen notwithstanding. Vulnerable
to the whims of distant nobility, colonists aired a diversity
of grievances. Were as rebuffed as a transgender

woman at an evangelical crusade. And yet a transgender
woman told me born-again rang true after her science-based
rebirth. She even found a church where diversity
was tolerated by all, welcomed by most. Entitlement
to a spiritual home asserted. The vulnerable
were not shut out. Still, those who cannot host a fetus

make rules for others whose fetuses
feed them danger. Some even think transgender
is a choice. Way back, before they became invulnerable,
were they ever fascinated by science? Based
on what and whom they promote, their entitlement
billows like dust on a gravel drive, beyond the diverse city.

Let us hold a mirror to those opposing diversity.
Show them the shapes of their teeth. For a fetus
to override a woman’s pursuit of life is the same entitlement
scorned by those who scorn transgender
persons, who do not reckon science-based
decisions valid. Ignorance makes them vulnerable.

They devalue diversity. Turn from transgender
neighbors. Harm the fetus by thwarting science-based
protections. Even with entitlements, they are vulnerable.

 

Kelly Lenox’s debut collection, The Brightest Rock, was published in 2017. Inspiration for the sestina came in a fashion similar to what led her to found the Erase-Transform Poetry Project—the urge to turn political speech, or not-speech in this case, into poetry. She works for a cousin of CDC (same grandpa) and hopes they don’t come for her.

 

 

Dis-/Ease Control [Central]** [Lynne DeSilva-Johnson]

*dhē(i)- / dhayati, dhayah, thele, felare, femina, fecundus, daddjan

we are fetal, evidence of our vulnerable skins still
awaiting nourishment, awaiting permission to find ourselves here
to title ourselves alive

suckle, abundant, offspring, lamb

*terə- / turah, teirein, tornus, tiro, tirah, purh

En-title, I cross my self across my Self, trans-
gender, trans species, I give birth,  I beget my
Self, across, a diversity of bloodied letters

wounded, threshhold, to rub, rub away

*genə- / janati, janah, jatah, janman, gnasi, gentis, gecynd

to turn in different directions,
to bend
to turn aside

to raise, to lift, to hold suspended

these vowels       from- / their multiworld wombs
from- / the millioned mouths that said wheel, befall, to be changed

*wer- / aerein, svarr, schwer, vartate, rhatane, versus, weorthan, wyrd

Fecund filioque fellatio
I baste my wounds in eloquence, based in evidence,
the roots of my limb trees in gignesthai, in genius.
who I am but science-based, who I am but borne and born and bearer

Scilicet, sciolist, scission, scism, shiver, shyster, squire

*skei- / chindhi, a-sista-, skhizein, c’tim, chwydu

a stepping, I, permission. en-Titled. A fetus, I, the
secure ground from which operations proceed, the
destination of a runner

the bottom of anything

perceptible sight, a knowing
a Methodical Thing

tell me again how your hands came to hold
the title to story
how you knighted yourself use of my tongue

 

Lynne DeSilva-Johnson (they/them) is a nonbinary queer interdisciplinary creator, cultural scholar, and educator. They are founder of The Operating System, a radical open source arts organization and small press. After 10+ years teaching at CCNY, Lynne is now serving as a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute. Recent publication credits include Wave Composition, The Conversant, Gorgon Poetics, POSTblank, Vintage Magazine, Live Mag, Coldfront, the Brooklyn Poets Anthology, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for The Resistance, and “In Memory of Feasible Grace,” part of the Panthalassa Pamphlet series, among others. Their performances and work have appeared widely, including recent features at Artists Space, Bowery Arts and Science, The NYC Poetry Festival, Carmine Street Metrics, Eyebeam, LaMaMa, Triangle Quarterly, Undercurrent Projects, Mellow Pages, The New York Public Library, Launchpad BK, Dixon Place, Poets Settlement, and many more. They are always still beginning.

Inspiration: The fascist impulse to control language usage is ultimately one of our most constant reminders of the power of language (things not powerful don’t bear concern enough to control). These words are part of the ever-shifting landscape of evolving sounds we employ to describe the wonder and confusion of our human lives–and to mark these lives for ourselves, each other, and (we hope) our future generations, via story in all its forms. For this work I wanted to explore not only these words but also their origins–looking for their overlaps across cultures and traditions, how they’ve woven in and out of each other, and already how this short list represents a galaxy of human history.

I wanted to speak to our enduring search for self, and indeed our entitlement to that search, and its journey through and across languages, landing us here, where someone tasked with our protection instead portends to tie us into knots. This is a poem of refusal and of grappling, that knows that we and these words are an interchangeable body, belonging to no one if not to all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Those Who May Be Listening [Alicia Hoffman]

Yesterday, on NPR, a man from the Pentagon’s Advanced
Aerospace Threat Identification program was interviewed
about alien spacecrafts, the vulnerable 5-35 pilots catching
glimpses of unidentified flying objects and, risking ridicule,
reporting them. The man, welcome to the entitlement
of his own opinions, thank you, insisted we are not alone.
And now, on another feed, the diversity of our galaxies
reveal an additional interstellar object, elongated in shape
and in no way human science-based. Of course, we fail
to find evidence-based conclusions. The things move
too damn fast. We can only look at the spreadsheet of stars
in our own small slice of sky and wonder: if extraterrestrial
vessels made contact would they only laugh at our fetus-
like brains, so small we cannot, even now, grasp the heady
concepts of transgender restrooms, institutional racism,
equal pay? What would they say of our politics, our president,
the way we hand entertainers who throw balls astronomical
amounts of money while our educators slave away for a
small check they shell out immediately for a mortgage?
Please, I beg of you, if you can hear us, we need you.
We need you to tell us it will be okay, that we are perhaps
only in the infancy of our existence, and that maybe, just
maybe, if we can find the right words, and use them
in the right way, our language could hold us up, make us
brave enough to ask for help, please, before it’s too late.

 

Alicia Hoffman lives, writes, and teaches in Rochester, New York. Author of Railroad Phoenix, (Kelsay Books, 2017), her poems have appeared in a variety of journals, including Penn Review, SOFTBLOW, Redactions, A-Minor Magazine, and elsewhere. Find out more at: aliciamariehoffman.com.

Inspiration: Soon after reading about the list of words banned from CDC documents, I listened to an interview on NPR with the head of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program where he admitted the existence of UFOs. So, here we are, engaged in the pitiful spectacle of censorship, when we could be spending valuable time exploring our relationship to the wider universe and perhaps communicating with who, or what, is out there.

Whispers Fill What Space Is Left [Cate McGowan]

I sneak behind the mob shrilling their silver whistles, screaming through bullhorns, waving posters. The signs scream, BABY KILLER! …Your fetus doesn’t have a choice!  I climb two flights of stairs to an unmarked office, and nausea overtakes me as I enter. I gulp back the bile.

The squat receptionist frowns, missiles a glance at my mid-section as she searches behind me for a companion, a ghost. “You’ll need a ride home.” I lie: “My boyfriend’s parking down the street.” Her eyes lift to heaven. She knows. She peers through the glass, “That’s $400. Cash. And you’ll need a cab after.” She taps her long black fingernail on the clipboard. “Go on, sign-in.” I skim the list of fourteen women ahead of me. All Marys. A most common name.

I find a seat in the middle row. One woman sniffles, leans into her boyfriend’s shoulder. Another squeezes her visibly transgender mate’s tiny hand; both wear security guard uniforms. Everyone avoids eye contact. We ignore the vulnerable window view of mid-day traffic outside the dusty blinds. Though, we do hear the world out there, how the horns bawl, how the busses gurgle by in a crawl.

In the hushed room, we gaze at a viridian wall and its illustrated chart of large saltwater fish. I wonder if some of the sea creatures are sperm whales (an ironic joke I can’t tell here). That evidence-based world fades distant in this cramped room of women whose babies will never have names in our world of mistakes and terrors.

While we sweat it out in the cramped waiting room, the door to the inner office hisses open every seven minutes, and a prickly nurse calls names. I watch each Mary, Mary, and Mary rise. When the door puffs shut, an arrow of scent shoots by redolent of menace and rubbing alcohol.

A man sits next to me and sighs, his wedding band unscratched shine, and he wears his easy air of entitlement— he’s just a guest here. He stares at the floor, re-ties his shoe laces, tugs at his pockets, flips through an old copy of Scientific American with its headline, “Future Jobs Depend on a Science-Based Economy.” There is no future.

The crowd here shifts, swells. There are no seats now. Whispers fill what space is left. People stand, hover, push against a privacy screen papered with paisley, its out-of-date pattern’s diversity dizzying. I swallow hard again. The door swings open. “Mary M.?” This time it’s my turn. I stand, relinquish my chair, try to smile when the attendant apologizes for the long wait.

 

Cate McGowan is the author of the story collection, True Places Never Are (Moon City Press, 2015), which won the Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. McGowan’s work appears in literary outlets such as W. W. Norton’s Flash Fiction InternationalGlimmer TrainCrab Orchard Review, Shenandoah(b)oink, and Vestal Review. Find her at www.catemcgowan.com

Inspiration: The recent assault on healthcare by the Trump administration is not new; this piece came out of my experiences escorting women into clinics during the early 1990s when Operation Rescue employed guerilla tactics to block abortions.

 

 

Poor Tiffany Trump, Left Out of All the Photos Like “Evidence-Based,” is Left Out of This Sestina [Jennifer Martelli]

Dear Don Jr.: In the green light of night-vision goggles, I saw a vulnerable
elephant brought down by seven pure & metallic lionesses. Their diverse
uteri—some in estrus, heat glowing & thick & fertile. Pregnant lion with her fetus
curled & hairless, really no more than a newt, a red eft, transgender—
that lioness suffocated the pachyderm, bit his trunk shut. The Nat Geo scientists
based this on her thicker pelt, her place of honor in the hunt, her kill-entitlement.

Dear Eric: Deep in the Czechoslovakian heart, the stones—like a toothy entitled
smile—cause the trees to grow curved as broken cornets or flutes, the roots vulnerable
to the warped mind of the terrain, & the wind, & the earth’s curve. The science
of the moon & the sun, too, twist the trunks until they bend. The only diversity:
the degree of the curve, how low the trees drag their bellies. Trunks bent the way a fetus
bends, to accommodate the mother, the canal, that mouth torn pink & transformed.

Dear Ivanka: You confuse me. Your breasts are amazing, your shoulders though, trans-
religious & broad, & your porcelain husband—do you break him? You are entitled,
Cowgirl, to ride that bronco but he cries, don’t hurt me! (He calls you Mommy).  Feed us,
Mommy, feed my girly-girl heart, feed my slumlord mouth, feed the vulture
your black milk of morning
. All golden hair Margareta. Your father wasn’t diverse—
wife & wife & wife & daughter wife & beauty queen & you, fate-based by science.

Dear Tiffany: 3’s equal an imbalance, an odd ball, an extra. Science
warns us, too. That dangling chromosome. That vestigial sac. Transgender
organs & clothes. Something has to go. Be lopped off. Pick a side. Divest
your riches from the ivied universities. In your father’s world, you are un-titled,
you do not exist. Poof! The sky is as blue as your heavy eyelids. Invulnerable
symmetry, like God, all golden. Like you. But beautiful. Not so freakish.

Dear Barron: When you were a golden apostrophe, an owned billionaire fetus
owning a golden horse, a golden lion, a golden truck, a golden sun science
says can burn the world to ash, your mother protected you, most vulnerable
trump-card in the cursed Tarot deck. Why won’t you smile an amber frown trans-
posed into a grimace? Your smile the mark of possession, your name the title
of peerage: Barron Trump. Barron, all yours, the rutting, the ash, the sadness divers.

Dear Children of the United States: Apologies, you will have to go long, dive
river-deep into America, because it’s your blood-flow, your scoliactic fetal
spinal column. None of this is your fault. Here is your golden belt, your title
written on papyrus, burnt edged & imported. The pseudo-science
pneumococcals flattened the globe: anti-vaxxed face, blank un-pitiless, trans-
Siberian-cold dares you to look it in its eye, you, least venerable, most vulnerable.

Dear Don Jr., say diversity & we (you) die. Dear Eric, say entitlement, & we
(you) end. Dearest Ivanka, say vulnerable. Tiffany, transgender, & so vamoose &
tod. Barron, say science-based & behold: children say fetus & flower.

 

Jennifer Martelli’s debut poetry collection, The Uncanny Valley, was published in 2016 by Big Table Publishing Company. She is also the author of After Bird from Grey Book Press. Her work has appeared in Thrush, [Pank], Glass Poetry Journal, Cleaver, The Heavy Feather Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Jennifer Martelli has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes and is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is a book reviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly as well as the co-curator for The Mom Egg VOX Folio.

Inspiration: Although I rarely write in form, I love the obsession of the sestina. I treated each stanza as a separate poem, a letter to the Trump kids. This allowed me to focus, in a simpler way, on what I saw as their unique characteristics!