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.

Whispers Fill What Space Is Left [Cate McGowan]

I sneak behind the mob shrilling their silver whistles, screaming through bullhorns, waving posters. The signs scream, BABY KILLER! …Your fetus doesn’t have a choice!  I climb two flights of stairs to an unmarked office, and nausea overtakes me as I enter. I gulp back the bile.

The squat receptionist frowns, missiles a glance at my mid-section as she searches behind me for a companion, a ghost. “You’ll need a ride home.” I lie: “My boyfriend’s parking down the street.” Her eyes lift to heaven. She knows. She peers through the glass, “That’s $400. Cash. And you’ll need a cab after.” She taps her long black fingernail on the clipboard. “Go on, sign-in.” I skim the list of fourteen women ahead of me. All Marys. A most common name.

I find a seat in the middle row. One woman sniffles, leans into her boyfriend’s shoulder. Another squeezes her visibly transgender mate’s tiny hand; both wear security guard uniforms. Everyone avoids eye contact. We ignore the vulnerable window view of mid-day traffic outside the dusty blinds. Though, we do hear the world out there, how the horns bawl, how the busses gurgle by in a crawl.

In the hushed room, we gaze at a viridian wall and its illustrated chart of large saltwater fish. I wonder if some of the sea creatures are sperm whales (an ironic joke I can’t tell here). That evidence-based world fades distant in this cramped room of women whose babies will never have names in our world of mistakes and terrors.

While we sweat it out in the cramped waiting room, the door to the inner office hisses open every seven minutes, and a prickly nurse calls names. I watch each Mary, Mary, and Mary rise. When the door puffs shut, an arrow of scent shoots by redolent of menace and rubbing alcohol.

A man sits next to me and sighs, his wedding band unscratched shine, and he wears his easy air of entitlement— he’s just a guest here. He stares at the floor, re-ties his shoe laces, tugs at his pockets, flips through an old copy of Scientific American with its headline, “Future Jobs Depend on a Science-Based Economy.” There is no future.

The crowd here shifts, swells. There are no seats now. Whispers fill what space is left. People stand, hover, push against a privacy screen papered with paisley, its out-of-date pattern’s diversity dizzying. I swallow hard again. The door swings open. “Mary M.?” This time it’s my turn. I stand, relinquish my chair, try to smile when the attendant apologizes for the long wait.

 

Cate McGowan is the author of the story collection, True Places Never Are (Moon City Press, 2015), which won the Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. McGowan’s work appears in literary outlets such as W. W. Norton’s Flash Fiction InternationalGlimmer TrainCrab Orchard Review, Shenandoah(b)oink, and Vestal Review. Find her at www.catemcgowan.com

Inspiration: The recent assault on healthcare by the Trump administration is not new; this piece came out of my experiences escorting women into clinics during the early 1990s when Operation Rescue employed guerilla tactics to block abortions.

 

 

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.

Medical school blues—anatomy of the world [Lind Grant-Oyeye]

This, certainly, is a lesson on decay,
the decomposition of a body,
which once held strength in its toes.
Its swagger now vulnerable—under
the knife that pierces,
as thunder pierces the still of birds—
they used to be free, although vulnerable.
This body, made from a fetus, grown into its own—
now bows to inexperienced hands searching
for the meaning of evidence-based medicine—
searching for science-based love songs—
their mouths shout out to lovers across the old room.
Their hands trembling, hold the diversity of scalpels,
making pliable, skin—
used to be tough, like grandma’s morning grits—
her sense of entitlement, that we must all eat daily
that which remains most unpalatable.
her sense of accomplishment, when she first learned to spell
“TRANSGENDER” correctly.

 

Lind Grant-Oyeye is a Nigerian-born multi-award winner. She is the recipient of the UHRSN human rights poetry and the Irish Times writing awards

Inspiration: Growing up in a country where free speech was suppressed for a while, due to military dictatorship, I believe any rumors which suggests the banning of words, should be taken seriously, until they are deemed unfounded.

The Expectant Mother [Alexander Cavaluzzo]

The transgender fetus wades in amniotic fluid
      Like a cube of ham suspended in aspic
      Vulnerable to a guest’s sterling silver fork

The OB/GYN detected a penis
      Under the gelid gel of a wand,
      But, the Expectant Mother knows better

A sense of entitlement washes over her
      For the evidence-based assumption that her
      Fetus must be transgender

The evidence-based assumption includes:
Her cravings for kale
      And yogurt
      And salmon
      And, when the transgender fetus has a cheat day,
      Non-Dairy Häagen-Dazs®

How marvelous, the Expectant Mother thinks, to
      Introduce diversity
      Into her cisgender brood

At the OB/GYN, the Expectant Mother sees her Linea Nigra is pink
      Linea Rosea, rather
      Like a grosgrain ribbon hugging a gift

This is science-based confirmation
      To prove her conviction she’s
Carrying a transgender fetus
Think, a transgender fetus:
      Absolution for voting for
      Trump

 

Alexander Cavaluzzo is a writer, artist, and propagandist based in the East Village. 

Inspiration: Absorbing the 7 words, I gravitated towards the ones with the most humanity: “transgender” and “fetus”, so naturally the idea of a transgender fetus sprung out to me for its oddity and charm. But how can a fetus be transgender? Intersexuality might be detected in the womb, but not gender identity. So then it must be a projection…but who would project that? That’s when the Expectant Mother revealed herself to be the main character of the piece, and the desire for a transgender fetus based on stereotypical suppositions became apparent. White liberalism is at the core of the poem—naive attitudes towards marginalized groups that do more harm than good; reliance on and reinforcement of damaging stereotypes; the idea that one in power can use someone marginalized to absolve themselves from sin. The poem, in the end, is very much a reaction to the majority of white women who voted for Trump.

Scientists claim there’s an explanation for everything [Joanna Lee]

these words are banned from poems
and budgets and all legal documents except
essays on graduate-level metaphysics, for fear
they will transgender your language, turn
the vulnerable butterflies of you
into slow, solid meat.

while you aren’t watching, whole continents ghost
down from someone else’s idea
of heaven; when you look up
for salvation, it will have become
just another melting fetal icecap, being born
into a sea of dry cocoons.

it happens on a tectonic scale; you won’t see
the salt levels rise. they’ll weave
lullabyes from the skins
of polar bears, leaving out
the pink fists and god dreams
of diversity, so you’ll be left

with so much more to forget. so much
of entitlement, of science-
and evidence-based metamorphosis:
take your weak, your poor, your different
and shove them back
in some other womb.

 

Never having formally studied English or creative writing past high school, Joanna Lee instead focused on the sciences, earning her MD from the Medical College of Virginia in 2007 and a further Master’s Degree in Applied Science (neuroscience) from the College of William and Mary in 2010. Her writing life focuses particularly on the overlap of creativity and healing, and her first chapbook, Dissections, was released in 2017 from Finishing Line Press.

Inspiration: As a doctor-scientist by training and a poet by vocation, I felt this word ban as a gut punch on every level, threatening not only our health but the health of our freedoms.