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The shame spreads like ink in water.

Calling the automatic teller to see if money magically ended in your account.
Dividing the total into how much you can spend each day,
Hoping that the few dollars with somehow feed you.

You tell yourself that the coffee you enjoy each morning,
Is an extravagance that much be denied this month.
You can’t go to dinner with friends,
Unless they offer to pay,
And you hope they offer.
You may make it with a couple of handouts.

You buy eggs and a loaf of cheap bread.
That will make cheap meals.
Tea is cheaper than orange juice.
Desserts are not possible this month.

You look at the shopping carts of young professionals
With meat and fish, pastries and juices stacked.
You hope you don’t look too shabby buying a few cheap items.
They don’t notice, but still your shame keeps watch.

You hope Congress puts more money into food stamps
Although they just cut them.
Still, with hunger so widespread, maybe they will come to their senses,
And raise the limit.
You could use the extra ten dollars.

You think about getting a food box,
But you worry someone you know may see you.
The food will send your blood sugar soaring
And put pounds on you,
Like many poor people– obese–
When they can’t afford groceries.

There are soup kitchens but you hope
The workers don’t know you from church,
Or business.

You read the government studies
That remind you to eat fresh fruit and vegetable every day,
If the supermarket in your neighborhood sells them,
If you can afford them the week you get paid,
Before all the money is gone.

You have fantasies of starting a successful business
Of having millions or billions so you could wear nice clothes,
And eat healthy foods, buying fresh fruit and vegetables
Whenever you want,

And that cup of coffee in the morning.

Jason Reynolds

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