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.

 

America Ain’t Easy (Adrian Blevins)

when the saw mills are gone cause the Internet is plastic
& the granny quilts are heating pads from China
& somebody’s once-fetus needs surgery & would get it
if people had hearts in the form of health insurance
but don’t because they despise the poor & women
& immigrants & African Americans & the transgender
& gay & things that are science-based & evidence-based
& all I’m saying is, America ain’t at all easy

when you must think non-stop about stupid Trump
& other grotesqueries such as what a dead goose
in the form of a country looks like & what a dead goose
in the form of a country feels like lolling here inside you
like a long-necked stone in the pit of something
like your stomach but worse such as your throbbing
heart of diversity I guess where once you’d hoped
to learn to darn socks at least metaphorically

& arrange winterberries on farmhouse mantels
to soothe the grandkids who were to soothe you back
during the more vulnerable senior years. But now
grandkids are an entitlement for the rich you guess
& thus you don’t want them anymore because
what if they needed surgery—what if they had
just one eye—what if they wanted the story of America
& all you had was a little porridge & venom & spit?

 

Adrian Blevins is the author of Appalachians Run Amok, winner of Two Sylvia Press’s Wilder Prize, forthcoming spring 2018; Live from the Homesick Jamboree; The Brass Girl Brouhaha; and a co-edited collection of essays, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia. She teaches at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Inspiration: The Trump Administration’s very scary authoritarian bent inspired me to write this poem, and really has me in perpetual freak-out mode.

 

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?

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.