The Dead

They’re pretty but the dopamine
Has hollowed out their pale blue eyes.
They sit there, staring, silent, numb,
(They only need to move their thumb…)
Intent upon the tiny screen.
There’s no enjoyment, no surprise,
Nor do they seem to realize
They’re dead already at thirteen.



Jeffrey Essmann is an essayist and poet living in New York. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, among them Agape Review, America Magazine, Dappled Things, the St. Austin Review, U.S. Catholic, Grand Little Things, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate. He is editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.

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11 Responses

  1. Phil S. Rogers

    So true. We now have a generation and a half of people who have no ability to think for themselves, and need to find out what everyone else thinks or is doing so they can make a choice in life. And these are people that may someday lead this country???

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    A sad but true commentary of so many young teenagers who cannot think for themselves and become led by the arch enemy of mankind. Your poem has many facets to it besides the lack of exercise.

  3. Cheryl Corey

    Your tightly-wrought poem succinctly describes how today’s youth are being destroyed by cell phone addiction. Sadly, it begins well before thirteen!

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    A similar complaint was made about Baby Boomers, who were the first television generation. But early TV was qualitatively different, because much of it was simply light entertainment (cartoons, sitcoms, adventure serials, westerns, police procedurals), along with some good drama, comedy, old movies, music and dance, and educational stuff. It may have been simple and aimed at a demotic audience, but it wasn’t corrupt and intellectually poisonous.

    The people whom Essmann describes are from a totally different universe. The complaints that I remember from adults in the 1950s was that TV took youngsters away from reading books, or doing their schoolwork. Essmann’s teenagers are zombies, utterly cut off from anything other that their stupid FLHHDS (my acronym for “F–king Little Hand-Held Devices”). These things have turned their users into monads. They are profoundly totalitarian.

    Some of these modern zombies will sit in a room, and send text messages to each other without saying a word. Even though they are only a few feet apart from each other, they prefer to communicate via their precious i-phones rather than open their mouths to speak. It’s hard to think of anything more degrading that could happen to human interaction.

  5. Cynthia Erlandson

    You’ve expressed this sad truth so well and so succinctly, Jeffrey.

  6. Paul A. Freeman

    Fewer and fewer human interactions. Where will it end?

    Well said, Jeffrey.

  7. Dana D

    As others have shared, the sadness and truth of this poem are immense. After reading, I feel like I need to do more to help young people. This poem packs so much into so few, beautifully chosen words.

  8. Margaret Coats

    Jeffrey, eight lines of iambic tetrameter made me think of the rispetto form–even though you mangle its other strict rules. Your rhyme scheme is abccabba. Usual for the rispetto is abab ccdd, with some variation allowed in the second quatrain. You don’t have two quatrains, but five lines plus three lines. Most important, the poem shows no respect for the sad subject. Call it “una mancanza di rispetto” (a lack of respect). Nice job.

  9. Jeffrey J Essmann

    Thank you, everyone, for your very kind appreciation of the poem. I’m the catechist for the 2nd graders with the religious ed program at my parish, and the poem is based on a very disturbing (non-)encounter I had with two of the older girls (7th grade?) in the program. I was also fresh off of reading yet another study about the damage social media is wreaking on young people, especially girls and, coming so bleakly face-to-face with it inspired both horror and the poem. (Full disclosure: I have my own history of addiction, and seeing them on their phones made me think more about heroin than TikTok.) At any rate, thanks again to all of you.
    And thanks especially to you, Margaret, for introducing me to the rispetto. I will definitely study it further. The rhyme scheme I used was, I suspect, from Longfellow, whom I’ve been ripping off left and right lately. Thanks again.

  10. Gigi Ryan

    Dear Jeffrey,

    Haunting and heartbreaking.
    Odd how something so addicting has no, “enjoyment or surprise,” but you are correct.

  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jeffrey, I’ve always thought there were no words powerful enough to dissolve the glue that connects young hands to their daily dopamine. I’ve changed my mind. With its brutally honest brevity, your wake-up-call of a poem packs one helluva powerful punch. Thank you!


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