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.

 

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.

 

Reaching Across the Divide [Michele Battiste]

We reject
the evidence—based
on science based on
entitlement—as we are not
the kind of people who spend
their days turning knobs on a
microscope and calling it labor.
Who scribble in notebooks and
want to be applauded. Who bemoan
the insufficiency of their research
assistantships. Their reality isn’t ours
and so their facts are alien and don’t
bother to make introductory overtures.
Is it diversity if we  are not included?
Diversity is a kind   word for a fundamental
difference of life      experience and consequently
a separate set of         accepted givens, some apparently
perceived as              valueless. Only the most vulnerable
are terrified                 of disappearing or worse. Being visible
and not mattering                at all. We save buttons. Our
grandmothers serve                  several cups of tea from one bag.
If we didn’t have God                   we would lash out in hopelessness
and drown the weak. If                       we want to give a fetus rights,
it’s because we understand                         helpless. Tell me what you are
capable of when you                                 are afraid. Our plane is going down
and it is your sky.                                    Your feminist sky. Your transgender
sky. Your evidence-                                     based, science-based, irrefutable sky.
We see your sky                                          glittering with stars even when the sun rises.

 

Michele Battiste is the author of Uprising and Ink for an Odd Cartography, both from Black Lawrence Press.

Inspiration:  In a conscious move toward healing, I am attempting to be receptive and open to the feelings and perceptions of people on the other side of the political divide. I’m not always successful.

I Am My Own Transgender Fetus [Kim Dower]

My mother thought I was a lesbian
when I came home from college
wearing a flannel shirt fresh from a March
across the Boston Common, the ‘70s
no entitlement back then, no transgender
friend, we all hid inside our sleepless nights
smoking fat joints of science-based conclusions
rolling out our private stomach aches watching
evidence stack up higher than we could see.
I feel so vulnerable tonight, hungry for diversity–
where is my entitlement–I am my own
transgender fetus floating in a tank with no borders
banging my soft unformed skull into the glass ceiling
seeking any spray of light as our world rolls backward
over a grassless hill of mutant crickets button up
your collar until your mouth is invisible all evidence-based
science-based beautiful womb-faced lips erased
who doesn’t crave a chance to say banned words
hear their echo like vapor stain the wall of our lives
our slurred speech aching for clarity.

 

Kim Dower is the City Poet Laureate of West Hollywood through October, 2018.  She is the author of three collections of poetry, all published by Red Hen Press, with a fourth collection, Sunbathing on Tyrone Power’s Grave coming in the Spring of 2019.  www.kimdowerpoetry.com

Inspiration: As soon as I read the news story that seven words had been banned from use by the CDC, I wanted to use those words in a poem. Then I read about the CDC Poetry Project.  Perfect. My inspiration for the poem?  Shock, despair, and the pleasure of using newly banned words.

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.

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.

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
Archived
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
Example:
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?

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.