In the chaos of the Trump administration–and at the moment impeachment inquiry and Middle East policy dominating the news–it’s hard to pick one bad move from another out of the pile (at least for those of us whose brains have not been bleached by the post-truth phenomenon). One bad move that came early on was the decision to ban seven words from all CDC communications: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based“. One wonders why these were singled out. That is, having made the decision to ban words, why these? And what goes into the decision to ban words in the first place from a government agency the function of which is to serve the health and well-being of the American public? Are these words dangerous? Why?
The decision itself smells bad to many of us: poets, scientists, healthcare workers, and those of us who have been wounded by people who use language as a weapon. Can public officials not be trusted to choose their own words? Who is to decide? And if it is deemed necessary to ban words in one federal department, then why not another and another? How far should it go? When should it stop? Who has a say?
As a poet nothing is more important to me than the freedom to choose my own words. Any attempt by authority to limit my use of words feels like the thumb of oppression. My first inclination is to use the “bad” words. Moreover, it is hard for me to imagine how science is served by banning words. It felt natural for me to craft a few poems using the banned words when I first heard the news. One of the poems, Wild, has appeared in The CDC Poetry Project. Another one, While The Offering Stales in the Calm, is published by Brill in the collection, Scientists and Poets #Resist. A third poem using the banned words appears below:
I don’t know why I feel so vulnerable so much the fetus when I been makin these rounds so long, don’t know which one of us hitched their wagon to who, just that the breaks don’t work too good on this thing and my ol’ foot’s getting worn out what with the starting and stopping and I wanna transgender too this ol’ stinking coat don’t fit me no more and as far as I’m concerned it’s all over but the yabba dabba doo, time to go, to let it all go, I’ve been working on this for years actually and you’ve been complicit, certainly, too old to deny it yes but why let that stop you it never did before, the pileup proves it: in the living room in the kitchen in the hallway mounds and mounds up the stairs and down out the walkway to the Do Not Enter Garage, heaps against the evidence-based the science-based against good ol’boy Dinosaur Jones the whole host of hooded hoodlums, heaps of a lifetime of detritus crowding out souls that still somehow seek the light like an old bone sticking out of the pile, given away and sifted long ago, all that diversity of entitlement, that dog day’s done, you can try pokin’ it with your sore foot but you’ve looked and looked all away so it’s not like as if you look now that dog get up and run like I shoulda did before all those good long years made me too damn slow and stupid now that I got to n’ I can’t move.