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.

 

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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.

 

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.
http://lesleywheeler.org/
http://barrowstreet.org/press/book/radioland-lesley-wheeler/
https://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage/products/propagation-leslie-wheeler
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.

Context for their Budget Requests: A Half Septina for the CDC (Kathrine Varnes)

No one wants to admit he is vulnerable
After those blissful years of entitlement.
At the salad bar, “So much diversity!”—
Before most people had heard the term transgender,
Back when civil rights were a zygote fetus,
And the moon had no flags. What’s wrong with evidence-based?
Would you trust a surgeon who isn’t science-based?

Would you fly a plane that isn’t science-based?
Even Air Force One is vulnerable
To physics, and magic carpets are evidence-based
If you see them. Define entitlement
And liberty. Say where they get the fetus
Imagery for those posters. Diversity
Is more than a buzzword. People are born transgender.

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando was transgender
By divine intervention, not science-based.
Faster than evolution, her diversity
Of man then woman made her vulnerable
Now that she had the goods to carry a fetus.
Every work of fiction is evidence-based,
And sitting down to write it, entitlement.

Entitlement for all! Why should they shun transgender?
Evidence-based funding is good. Science-based
Language like fetus has value. We all feel vulnerable.
What sad, silent-auction price will diversity fetch?

 

Kathrine Varnes is the author of The Paragon and co-editor with Annie Finch of An Exaltation of Forms. She schleps her acting son to NYC for auditions or acting gigs when she is not writing or teaching at FIT.

Inspiration:  Seven words is one too many for a sestina, so I invented the septina and wrote half of one in an effort to reclaim these CDC-quarantined words. What better group to reclaim this ceded rhetorical ground than the unacknowledged legislators of the world?

Bill Nye: An Ode [Michael Anft]

The defender of
the science-based,
the evidence-based,
that wrinkled prune
of a secular saint,
reminds us that
the world revolves
around a diversity
of being.
Even so,
we are all stardust,
he knows,
from the
just-hatched fetus to
the re-birthed transgender woman,
one no more or less
graced with
entitlement
than any other.

 

Michael Anft is a writer and journalist whose work appears in AARP The MagazineThe Chronicle of Higher EducationKaiser Health News, and several other publications.
Inspiration: I chose science educator Bill Nye as the subject of my poem after thinking of who could best speak against the CDC word censure. I hope that my words serve as a winning proxy.

 

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 grosselectricworks.com

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.

 

Disinformation [Lori Brack]

You said you loved us, and we thought you meant
curled fetus love, snuggled warm blood love, cozy
heart-pumping love of all that’s vulnerable:
nuclear winter to Orlando’s frozen Thames love,
his – no, her – transgender glittering mirror-self’s
unfettered love for the bric-a-brac of democracy—
discourse, diversity, equality.
What’s it to you, who doomed us to the cold
like spies skulking around with our evidence-based tools
jangling against words like enrichment, enforcement,
entitlement? Undercover, we speak with an accent
while despite you we encode the fallout, hoard these few
science-based relics of our recent past inside poems
because these are the last places you would ever look.

 

Lori Brack’s poems and essays have been published in journals (including Another Chicago Magazine, The Fourth River, Superstition Review, Mid-American Review) and anthologies (most recently, Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction) since 2002. She manages a new project dedicated to developing Kansas artists in all genres.

Inspiration: The day after the CDC list appeared in the news, I saw a poem using them on social media and had an online conversation with poet friend Karen Craigo about trying our hands at the same thing. She alerted me to this project which gave me the impetus to mix the absurdity of banning words with my concerns about the rising threat of conflict with North Korea and my long obsession with Virginia Woolf’s writing.