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).

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,


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.

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.
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?