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.



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.


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.

The Lacanian Imaginary Tic (maybe) (Patricia Spears Jones)

There is a diversity of outrages in the daily briefings
On evidence, you can see the cookies crumble, the towers
Tumble, you call your transgender friends and they just
Want to punch the next guy who says something stupid

You know like a fetus is a person or a fetus is not a person
Or a fetus is not a fetus, but an imaginary tic in Lacanian scholarship

You could say stuff like that and you’d be vulnerable to many assaults
To the body, to the spirit, to your use of empirical research, how
Dare you find science  the basis for your conclusions about climate
Or geology genealogy biology- –flow charts abandoned in computer files
or destroyed—the hard copies stuffed in garages possibly in
Virginia or maybe Maryland.  Are we not entitled to know where

Our ideas are stored.  The ones that speak to invention or justice
Or measure the desertification of the Great Southwest?  The head
Bureaucrat claims no knowledge of censorship—polices change

And really when you think about it, there are so many ways in which
Nouns do so little harm, make little mischief, mask the very bad
Tastes in somebody’s mouth when culling a list of words whose
Meanings double, triple because they are no longer to be used
The transgender patient is vulnerable to evidence-based procedures
Resulting in a fixed fetal position as a diversity of science-based
Articles list her dis ease with the status quo.  Blah Blah Blah

Oh no, you cannot
Ask for mercy in this land or justice or love really,
you cannot ask for that.

But your outrages can be many, diverse, various, pointing towards
The heartless cock pecking at his twitter feed every other dawn.


Patricia Spears Jones is the author of A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems and seven other collections. She is the winner of the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets and Writers.

Inspiration: The arrogance of the current administration, but more troubling the current culture’s contempt for science, ironically married with contempt for the “other,” i. e. transgender persons, really enraged me. Those seven words combined that arrogance and contempt, plus reminded me of why Whitman asked American poets to make bold work that calls out the awful actors in our midst.

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
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.


Light Bulb Dancing [Beth Sherman]

The fetus only spoke to us in the early morning hours when the apartment was dead quiet. This was understandable. It was, after all, in a vulnerable position – completely at the mercy of Brianna’s whims.

“Bicycle teapot,” it said.

“Hat starlight fish.”

Never more than two or three words at a time.

I wrote everything down so we wouldn’t forget.

Brianna wanted to call CNN. She figured maybe they’d pay to get Jake Tapper over here to have viewers listen in. We’d made a science-based, evidence-based discovery and there should be some compensation involved. I disagreed strenuously. No amount of money could compensate for lost privacy, although as Brianna pointed out, babies were expensive as shit.

“What should we name it?” I asked.

“Gender is a societal construction,” Brianna replied. She’d been a doctoral candidate in English before the government decided higher education was an unnecessary entitlement and cut her program’s funding.

“Still, we should have some possibilities ready. What do you think of Delilah or Aaron?”

“Too Biblical. Besides, we need a neutral name. In case the baby is transgender.”

“Light bulb dancing,” said the fetus. It had a low, raspy voice that sounded like broken gravel.

We were lying in the baby’s area – one corner of the living room that we’d painted yellow and decorated with a stuffed caterpillar, blocks and a diversity of plants.

I put my ear on Brianna’s stomach.

“What do you think it’s trying to tell us?”

Her eyes glittered oddly. “That it’s strange out here. That maybe baby doesn’t want to know what happens next.”

“Lovely child,” she whispered, stroking her belly. “You are so beautiful and smart.”

“Time blossom,” crooned the fetus.

“Exactly,” Brianna said and even in the dark I could see her smiling.

Beth Sherman is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose fiction has appeared in The Portland ReviewBlue Lyra ReviewSou’wester, and many other literary journals. She tweets at @bsherm36

Inspiration: What stood out to me most in the seven banned words was “fetus” and the idea took off from there. Each day of the Trump Administration feels surreal and I decided to write a story where the surreal becomes real.

Trees and Their Forbidden Things [Eileen Walsh Duncan]

Every fall the Douglas firs here drop
billions of cones, their blunt heads ramming the ground,
reddish husks intact. Like tight buds before bloom they lie,
scales sealed or agape over the seeds, each seed damp as sapwood,
the fetus of a giant.

Vulnerable to the nubbed nose of the Douglas squirrel,
to the matte beaks of finches, siskins, sparrows, and juncos, they wait.
Needle-like leaves of firs descend like a blanket
knit of air. Under this cover, the seeds can begin.

Fall’s diversity of sustenance – leaf, sap, cone,
branch, seed, larvae – becomes winter’s entitlement.
All things that flap and wriggle will feast.

We live intimately with these trees: the air they’ve scoured clean,
the earth they build of needle-leaves and hold vastly in roots,
the gray-green sky their hundreds of millions form above us.

Snug in our homes of framing, joists, and knotty furnishings,
we drowse oblivious as their intimate lives cycle –
each one a hermaphrodite, casting pollen while swelling cones —
often mislabeled as transgender.

Yet if we dig, taproots lead us to evidence-based thirst,
starting when one filament pops from the papery
wings of a seed, threading down in a lifelong
journey toward deepest water.

To believe that you’re reading this poem is to believe in wisps
traced on the sheer heart of a tree, or in an arrangement
of pixels shimmering on a screen.

To believe in the science-based is to believe in every mystery
as it unfolds pungently, concretely
towering into the light.


Eileen Walsh Duncan’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in the Pacific Northwest under innumerable Douglas firs.

Inspiration: Seven words have now been given far more power than if they had languished in the pages of a budget request.


Five Months Vulnerable [Burleigh Mutén]

Entitlement never entered my mind.
I was pregnant, five months vulnerable
when a doctor suggested I have an abortion.
This is why we do amniocentesis, he said.

I was pregnant, five months vulnerable,
an extra X chromosome in every cell.
This is why we do amniocentesis, he said.
This fetus will develop breasts in his teens.

An extra X chromosome in every cell.
No real concept of diversity in 1984.
This fetus will develop breasts in his teens.
No words: pangender or transgender.

No real concept of diversity in 1984,
a science-based, legal procedure, that’s all.
No words: pangender or transgender.
No social, evidence-based research, just

a science-based, legal procedure, that’s all
when a doctor suggested I have an abortion.
No social, evidence-based research, just
entitlement never entered my mind.


Burleigh Mutén’s verse novel, Miss Emily, is based on the lively, loyal friendship Emily Dickinson enjoyed with the children in her neighborhood. Mutén is the former publisher of Hands of the Goddess Press, the smallest of presses with one title, Return of the Goddess engagement calendar, which was distributed internationally in the early nineties.

Inspiration: I immediately thought, I can write a poem with the words fetus and diversity in one sentence, that nightmare experience of 34 years ago still begging to be put onto the page. I chose pantoum to capture the haunting, repetitive thoughts that are borne of shock and loss. The brutally honest, brave expansion of gender definition is one dimension of culture where we can see growth in these “modern” times.