*** Editors note:  Gabrielle Mathews has just won the junior category prize for this poem in the "Act NOW! International Performance Writing Festival".  

Tabloids surround me in shades of black and outbursts of red
Screaming at me to pick them up and read the horrors of the world
'Killings continue in Libya'
'Police corruption'
'Shocking photos'
'Civil war'
All telling a story
(One more and I'm going to snap)
Of something rotten, deadly, hard to swallow like medicine or bitter herbs
Making me terribly aware of how lucky I am
(To live in 'America', the land of opportunities, paved with gold and good intentions)
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, let it out
(Stare at the distorted faces of people I don't know, people I'll never know because they're that terrible D word, the one that takes them away from where I am and puts them Somewhere Else)
I open them only to see a tired world, a dishonest world, a scary world
(Innocence and ignorance go hand in hand, flying away from me as 'nuclear..Japan...anti....energy' flits through one ear to lodge in my heart)
In which the special word doesn't work as often as it should
(Pretty please with cherries on top)
Promises are broken
(-But you said he'd live- in hysterical tones while
-Nothing is for certain, please calm down, Miss-
A grim person in a white coat stares through you)
And, perhaps worst of all, lies are told
All of these thoughts that pound through my head like a battering ram in a desperate action film
Images imprinted on my heart
Of tiny boys with stick bones and rib cages
That could compete with a Greyhounds' for attention
Eyes colored with desperation, faces numbed by disaster; the disaster being their life, spiraling into something that makes even the strong of heart feel twisted and sick
Statistics with the odds piled up high against improvement
Pins boldly stating 'poverty is a weapon of mass destruction'
Polls to see what country is best off
(It's like a race and here in the States, we're winners;
so what happens to the losers?)
The little things that pile up and flash by like a silent movie when it's late
and I'm trying to fall asleep but all I can think of are problems upon problems
(People say I've got a great imagination and I thank them,
braces glinting at them as I smile
but inwardly I'm screaming
'Imagine this;
we switch places with everyone in the slums'
which is too much for anyone who has seen the better side of life to even want to think of)
I fool myself into thinking that they're getting taken care of, that people care and put time, money, energy into helping others
(The Golden Rule, as my teachers taught me in preschool)
When experience tells me that we're too self-absorbed and fast-paced to sit down and consider anybody else
(Charity's a lot less grand when I know of fraud
All I can think is 'what sick people would take money from the dying?')
Driving home, music playing dimly in the background, eyes bleary and turning the road into a dark expanse lit by other cars, like yours
Stopped briefly by the sight of a young woman who is probably just like you except-
She's carrying nothing but a cardboard sign and a tiny can
(Pause to take the sight in, consider, drive by)
Later, I wonder what put her there, why she needs to appeal to the kinder nature of strangers, how she would feel if she knew I saw her and WENT ON ANYWAYS
(I imagine she's used to it
I imagine she's tired of it)
Guilt sits on people's shoulders, an anchor that causes them to droop and stumble, looking for all of the world to be sick at heart
Many adults have drooping shoulders, premature graying, lack of composure at the end of the day when they've had their fill of difficult questions
(Social security, finance, bills, taxes, Coke or Pepsi, now or later, employment, education, what is your opinion)
As if they need the night to let these thoughts leak out
(I picture wisps of words scrambling out of their eyes and ears, desperate to get out of where they were crammed into)
The following morning will restart all the anxiety, open the door to a whole new world of important papers, bloody numbers, sad truths, quiet lies, vicious facts and their conscience will be shutting down in order to survive
So tell me
(Whisper into my ear when no one else is paying attention)
What is the secret to blocking out the world
When you've already been exposed to things you never dreamed of
Do the tabloids get less shocking?
Does the guilt become normal?
Please tell me
What to do now that I'm aware

Gabrielle Mathews is fourteen years old and writes both poetry and prose, inspired by the changes she sees around her. Her writing can be seen in an artistic site called Deviantart, which she likes to share with her friends. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.