Three Generations

There are three generations in a room. The room is white. The people are white. The food is white. The first generation has rippled skin, says the third generation.

What is wrong with rippled skin? says the second generation.

It’s gross, says the third.

The second generation has rippled (wrinkled) skin and tattooed skin. The second generation has undeclared skin and skin that has been re-declared. The second generation has skin that they try to tear apart on a daily basis and skin they try to tend to. It is a daily struggle.

Why do you have so many scars, asks the third generation to the second.

Because I have lived, the second replies. But what they do not add is that each scar is from a different war within the body and mind. Some truths are not able to be told until. Until. When?

The first generation watches the third generation play. They do not play with imagination and paper. Their play is made up of wires and screens.

I can only concentrate on one thing at a time, says the second generation to the third. Can we unplug, at least while we eat breakfast? At least while we complete our sentences?

The third generation does not know what this means.

The second generation understands all about the ripples, the thinning of pockets and hair, the fear of government as rights are removed or excluded. They do not have extra food in their pantry. They cannot afford to throw that meat away.

The third generation wears t-shirts advertising liberalism and feminism and gay rights and trans rights and human rights and Black lives mattering, but when you ask them a question: What does dissent mean? They ask Google.

Cotton and flags have become the new voice of the movement.

The second generation listens to the stories reiterated by the first generation. They need to remember so that no one forgets.

The third generation wants to play with other third generations while the second and first watches.

This is youth, the first generation says. They can request what they want and the second generation will give it to them.

There will be a time, though, says the first generation, that they, too will run out. And we will be gone. And they will have the ripples and empty pockets they never thought would come to them. The outlets will be stuffed by the dissenters, and they will have no way to understand the answers. They will not know how to approach paper, because all they know are screens. The first generation will be just a page in their photo albums, if they ever get around to making one. The second generation will be lost somewhere in the woods, hoping to escape all the wires. And the third generation will become someone else’s first, ignored for lack of relevance, ignored for too many ripples, ignored for not enough incentives in their pockets. 

what it is to have (not)


As I write this, I stare at less than $200 in my checking account. I do not announce this as some sort of Kickstarter-ploy-for-pity, rather as a reminder to myself of what it is to have or have not.

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, there were never empty shelves. Before each school year began, my mom would take my sister and I to Kmart or its equivalent and get us folders and notebooks. If shoes started breaking, we’d get a new pair. Holes in the knees of jeans? We’d head to the local mall for their replacement. We had.

As I got older, I fell in love with other people’s things. I spent my weekends, going to garage sales. My dad and I would hoard our treasures, hiding them from my mom who disapproved of the dusty discards. My body would be wrapped inside various shades of polyester, purchased from the local flea market, sometimes for less than $1. I loved wearing other people’s stories against my skin.

I never thought much about money. As a kid, we always had it.

Once I was old enough, I worked, so I had loose change to purchase non-necessities like cassette tapes, books and (later on) drugs. When I started working, I began saving for larger objects like a CD/record player, TV and then upon moving out after high school, rent.

There were years I fed my nose before I fed my mouth. But I always had. Even as a drug addict, I paid my bills on time. Rent. Credit card. Utilities. All of it. Sometimes there were even some months where I actually had some money left after paying these bills.

My eyes don’t get excited over expensive objects because as an adult, I always knew I could never afford them. I own no jewelry, nor do I care about the designer’s brands. My labels are usually faded by the time I purchase them, so I barely even know what size I am these days.

As I write this, with less than $200 in my checking account, I recognize how far $1 can go these days. (Should I build some suspense? Close your eyes. Hold your breath.) Not. Far.

$1 cannot afford my trip on the subway to work. In the 1940’s, a dollar could buy four movie tickets. Now, it doesn’t even cover the cost of a bottle of water from concession.

This is not to say that with less than $200 in my checking account, I do not have.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I wake in a bed every morning in a bedroom I call mine with heat that comes on fairly regularly at no extra cost. This bedroom is inside an apartment that also houses two other wonderful humans who fill it with art, music and laughter. This apartment includes a kitchen with a cupboard full of ingredients. Each morning, I toast rye bread in borrowed toaster and slide peanut butter against its yeast with less than $200 in my checking account. I have the ability to boil water (also free) and drink coffee from beloved French press every morning. In this apartment, there is furniture to sit on. In this apartment, though there are occasional cockroaches (the uninvited pests of living in the city); luckily, there has been no infiltration of mice. With less than $200 in my checking account, I can take a bath any time I want and the water never forgets to flow.

Ten years ago, I was eating nineteen-cent packages of freeze-dried ramen with enough salt in their flavoring packet to cover my allotted sodium intake for close to a week. This was all I could afford. Now, I purchase ramen (price more than doubled) not because I have to but because I want to.

What does it really mean to have? Is it always attached to money, or is there something else to it.

As I write this, I think about the weight of love and how when I have it, I feel like it replaces every haunting presidential face attached to currency that could ever climb into my wallet. I feel like the most affluent human just for having my metaphorical heart wrapped up in a metaphorical heated 1,000-thread count blanket.

I think about the weight of words and how when I have them, I feel like I can purchase meals with my poems. I feel like I could pay my rent with my words. I feel like I could purchase a plane ticket for around the world with a well-crafted independent clause.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I have enough books to build a well-enclosed fort to protect me from the ones I hide from.

I have things. I am reminded of this with each move from new state or street. In my head, I am a well-intentioned minimalist. In real life, I am a massive collector of the discarded.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I have enough clothes to last me through two weeks without having to visit the Laundromat (or at least enough underwear). I have boots to protect me from rain or snow and sneakers to slide my feet into for the warmer/dryer months.

I go to work at a community college, teaching students about writing, reading and creative ways to think with less than $200 in my checking account.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I swipe metro card with enough money stored on it to get me to aforementioned workplace and back home with possible stops in between. I notice that as I travel with other strangers underground, this is the one place where all economic classes blur together. It does not matter if you have $20 in your wallet or no wallet at all. There is no exclusive seating on the subway. A hedge fund or 401K account will not guarantee you a seat during rush hour. Everyone is the same.

What is it to have with less than $200 in my checking account? How can one claim to be rich when by society’s standards, they are poor? Is mood measured by bank balance? Would I be happier if I could afford everything on my Amazon wishlist?

As I write this, with less than $200 in my checking account, I feel no less sad as the days of the week where my balance is far more corpulent. My disposition has nothing to do with my wallet. In fact, as I settle into this low-income identity, I recognize that what I desire the most are things unattached to price tags: words, love, peace of mind, poetry.


There is discomfort in the length, breath, width, movement of silence.

What does silence look like?


On a different night than this one, a stage is covered with dancers. Smooth skinned spandex’d movers lifting and lunging and plunging their bodies into a room where orchestra pit has been gutted and abandoned.

I listen to their bandaged, ballet’d feet curve and cringe against the wooden planks of the stage. I hear the stretch of limbs, the lift of bodies, the rocking of bones, the tapping of heels.


A cough.

And then another.

And another.

And (gasp) a cell phone ring?

Setting: The ballet.
Audience: A room full of too many white people and I look down at my mismatched odd choice of outfit and wonder if my economic class is louder than the absence of percussion and strings.
Contemplation: I am suddenly too aware of what I don’t have. I don’t own high heels or dress with beaded casing. My shoes are Converse and my legs are covered in hair and bruises. I am high on the elegance of what bodies can pronounce. I want to feverishly write in my notebook, but instead clasp my hands together and engage in single-tasking, replacing my “normal” multi-tasking lifestyle.

These dancers do not need music. Their rhythm is in their ankle twists and twirled exclamations. And then I think about my love of bike-riding. How music plugged into ears was replaced by spontaneous outbursts of singing. I belt out improvisational songs when I pedal past commuters and Brooklyn walkers. The music is inside me; the music is inside them.

And when the stories/movements are incomplete, I fill in the gaps. I study humanism on subway trains and commemorate existence through deep intentional stares. I weep when someone else does and wish I could turn my body into an enormous tissue to wipe all the troubles away.

At a poetry reading on a night different than this one, a poet exclaimed:
“How do I make myself a body/ How do I make myself less crowded?”

In silence, we find these answers because we are offered enough time to take in what is seen without the distractions of sound.

I am cleaning out the cupboards in my skin folds.
I am dusting out the remains of someone else.
I am daring my mind to shout quiet and instead, answer you with my body.