Trump’s Seven Forbidden Words [Kim Bridgford]

Who would object to any one of these—
Science-based, diversity, and fetus
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please

(What difference, really, does it make)? The lies—
Entitlement and vulnerable—hit us.
Who would object to any one of these:

Evidence-based, transgender? OEDs
Reassert themselves from Wiki-itus.
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please

(The way that we train all our PhDs).
But acquiescence will come back to bite us.
Who would object to any one of these?

Beware the military soft surprise:
It’s language first. So pretty, they can shoot us.
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please.

They say that it’s a shower. Such naïfs!
You offer up yourself to barracudas.
Who would object to any one of these?
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please.

 

Kim Bridgford is the director of Poetry by the Sea and editor of Mezzo Cammin.  The author of nine books of poetry, she is the recipient of grants from the NEA, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Ucross Foundation.  Her three-book project with visual artist Jo Yarrington, The Falling Edge, chronicling their trips to Iceland, Venezuela, and Bhutan, is forthcoming.  Bridgford is currently on sabbatical, reading about Antarctica.

Inspiration: Years ago, I worked as a military historian for the federal government.  In writing the history, I made a decision about what would be revealed and what would not.  “Trump’s Seven Forbidden Words” is about controlling the narrative:  eliminating some words might mean eliminating some discussions altogether.

 

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On Guard against Exposure to Ideas [Ned Balbo]

What words will those in power declare taboo
to blur the line between what’s false and true?
Why do they feel uneasy, vulnerable?
Who else will they declare invisible?

Is truth transgendered, viewed with deep suspicion?
Can they erase those who reject their vision?
Is truth transmissible, a virus known
to spread by contact, or through words alone?

Fear isn’t science-based. An enemy
is needed: immigrants, diversity,
imagined foes….Scripture provides the lens—
Cause, cure, and risk are only dissonance

to be shut out, replaced by doublespeak.
The strong owe no protection to the weak,
and inconvenient truths, evidence-based,
are now regarded with the same distaste

by those whose power bestows entitlement—
who’d steal our very words and leave us silent….
Who will they ban when all of us are gone?
What else will they forbid before they’re done?

We can’t just wait till history unfolds
its measured arc…The future that it holds
(a fetus, frail, heart beating in the dark)
is ours, and all we need to strike the spark.

 

Ned Balbo’s 3 Nights of the Perseids, forthcoming in 2019, was selected by Erica Dawson for the Richard Wilbur Award. His previous books include The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (awarded the Donald Justice Prize and the Poets’ Prize), and Upcycling Paumanok (Measure Press). He received an NEA translation grant in 2017.

Inspiration: The prospect of CDC guidelines being used to erase people or perspectives that the current administration finds objectionable is repellant. That the same guidelines would seek to reduce the role of science in verifying research findings meant to help and heal is worse than troubling–it’s a full-on assault on our collective well-being.

 

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.

 

Reaching Across the Divide [Michele Battiste]

We reject
the evidence—based
on science based on
entitlement—as we are not
the kind of people who spend
their days turning knobs on a
microscope and calling it labor.
Who scribble in notebooks and
want to be applauded. Who bemoan
the insufficiency of their research
assistantships. Their reality isn’t ours
and so their facts are alien and don’t
bother to make introductory overtures.
Is it diversity if we  are not included?
Diversity is a kind   word for a fundamental
difference of life      experience and consequently
a separate set of         accepted givens, some apparently
perceived as              valueless. Only the most vulnerable
are terrified                 of disappearing or worse. Being visible
and not mattering                at all. We save buttons. Our
grandmothers serve                  several cups of tea from one bag.
If we didn’t have God                   we would lash out in hopelessness
and drown the weak. If                       we want to give a fetus rights,
it’s because we understand                         helpless. Tell me what you are
capable of when you                                 are afraid. Our plane is going down
and it is your sky.                                    Your feminist sky. Your transgender
sky. Your evidence-                                     based, science-based, irrefutable sky.
We see your sky                                          glittering with stars even when the sun rises.

 

Michele Battiste is the author of Uprising and Ink for an Odd Cartography, both from Black Lawrence Press.

Inspiration:  In a conscious move toward healing, I am attempting to be receptive and open to the feelings and perceptions of people on the other side of the political divide. I’m not always successful.

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.

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.