they said

they said / what college are you going to / they said / volunteer to help the less fortunate / you can put that on your resume / you need a master’s degree for that job / we were impressed with your cover letter / they said / it’s time to get married / you’ll find a way to afford the wedding why aren’t you changing your last name / they said / a few more years and loans and we will call you doctor / they said / you can work and study / and become a mother / parenthood is a joy you cannot measure / they said / as they counted my salary / my gpa / my bmi / they said / you’ve become too much wife not enough of the stuff you used to be / they said / you were such an independent woman / they said / you’ve become too distracted / they said / you can’t put that on your curriculum vitae / they use the word career a lot / they use more numbers than poems / they give me titles and try to call it identity / they almost made me believe i had to interview for this body / made me think i had to prove something to the committee / made me feel like love is something to achieve / they almost convinced me / life is something i could have more of / if i just worked a little harder

The Scene
1st Place in PCCA’s Awards for Poetic Excellence

You don’t wake up knowing that today
will be one of the worst days of your life.
You just move through the hours,
until you are caught off-guard
by the spinning blue and red lights
from the side of the road,
grabbing your attention
like stage lights snapping on,
while the rest of the world goes dark.

It felt like just like a movie scene,
so it was only fitting that it was Friday the 13th.
A cinematic close-up of your life turned film,
the side of the road turned horror story on display.
I pulled over at the sight of you,
and suddenly the street became stage.

I stood there as they read you your rights,
handcuffed your hands behind your back,
two arm lengths in front of my eyes,
searched your car for more paraphernalia,
proof of another non-recovered recovering addict.

I knew you were waiting for me to say something,
but I was never given this script.
The audience was waiting for my punchline,
as your head was pushed into the backseat
of a cop car with tinted windows,
feeling too much like a curtain closing.

I didn’t know my lines,
but I ad-libbed for the sake of you
by mouthing “I love you” to you through the glass.
I wanted you to know that being locked up alone
doesn’t mean you are alone.
I wanted you to know that I wasn’t mad.

I wanted life to be like a film,
so I could edit your bad decisions out,
turn them into bloopers we could laugh about.

I never even auditioned for this part,
but my name is still rolling in the credits,
my name is still rolling off the tongues of the critics,
as if I could have somehow stopped you
from making the decisions that led us to this.

Spoiler alert:
there are only a few ways this storyline ends—
an epilogue of you behind bars,
an institutionalized life as the backdrop,
or a eulogy soundtrack playing
as all the extras we forgot about
reappear to take a bow.
Roses placed upon your chest

as I exit stage left.

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.