Vegas Bridge Girl

(2nd place in PCCA’s Awards for Poetic Excellence)

Vegas Bridge Girl—sitting on the bridge
connecting me to New York, New York.
You, looking disconnected from everything.

You looked the kind of high that shouldn’t be dismissed,
the kind of low that disrupts the Vegas daylight,
the kind of gone that disturbs a vacation mindset.

I bet you thought you were using the drugs, Vegas Bridge Girl,
but it looks like they’re using you,
as a host—an animal giving life to the parasites inside,
a host—drugs greeting you at the door and promising you a party inside.

You, Vegas Bridge Girl, are a building—a house—
the drugs broke inside, claimed squatters’ rights.
The drugs decided to flip you for some extra cash.
I wonder if the families that once called you home
would recognize you anymore.
I think your eyes were once brown; now they are peeling.
The drugs painted over them transparent.
You’ve been dislocated, displayed, put up for sale.

You, Vegas Bridge Girl, are a building—a hospital—
the drugs brought disease and disorder without discussion.
They built a psych ward on your third floor,
convinced you they were doctor,
told you you were a fixer-upper.

You, Vegas Bridge Girl, are a building—an apartment—
and the drugs are the landlord.
They promised you they’d fix that leak, but that was months ago.
Like a bad plumber, the drugs stopped by multiple times this week,
charged you way too much, but only made things worse.
The leak became a flood.

Strangely enough, hay is more flammable when wet,
and you, Vegas Bridge Girl, are a barn—
the drugs started the leak, and now you are a barn on fire—
burning the animals down with you.
Drugs have a way of taking down bystanders like that.

You, Vegas Bridge Girl, are a building, an abandoned greenhouse—
once so green, so full of oxygen, so spontaneous.
Now so combustible, so easy to catch on fire.

There’s a reason these metaphors are about floods and flames.

You, Vegas Bridge Girl, are a building, a library—
full of stories and history.
A food court—
full of hunger, and so many options to choose from.
A theatre—
the drugs are the credits rolling,
letting you know this is how it ends.
The drugs are the magician on stage.
You’ve paid them too much to make you disappear,

into this bridge that connects me to New York, New York.
The juxtaposition of the moment was not lost on me.
You held a soggy cardboard sign:
“Help. Homeless. Will do anything for money.”
Anything was underlined.
The juxtaposition of a town full of people
spending money on odds stacked against them,
in a world full of people who refuse to spend money
to help those with the odds stacked against them,
who are just down on their luck today.
Human lives are always worth the gamble.
Imagine how good that jackpot would feel.
Imagine what’s at risk if you don’t take that risk.

I almost sat down next to you, Vegas Bridge Girl,
but I felt maybe too disingenuous, maybe too disqualified.
At least that’s how I seemed to justify
my discomfort, my lapse in humanity.
I’ve been thinking about you for weeks, Vegas Bridge Girl,
but thoughts are worthless without action.
Maybe this poem is action.
Maybe the next time I see a Vegas Bridge Girl—
with painted over transparent eyes—
I will bring a brush to help them repaint what once was,
repair what was not lost in the fire,
rebuild from the ashes up.

In that moment, Vegas Bridge Girl, I wished myself a building, a church—
a place that can save from within.
A bakery—
able to offer you something from scratch sweeter than this.
A firehouse—
equipped to flood out your flames.

Perhaps just a roof over your head
would have been enough.

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