In June of 1999 I was traveling back to Portland after visiting my father in Tucson with my three-year-old daughter in tow. We missed a connection and wound up in the Las Vegas Airport. It was my first time in that city, and in the late hour the airport was almost empty
An island of garish casino machines lit up like Christmas with blinking bulbs of blue and red and green blurted noises and snatches of distorted music across the empty carpet. My daughter was sleeping across my lap as only children can. I was pinned into the chrome and vinyl seat.
From the nest of slot machines emerged a young girl. She was faded like a Polaroid left on a dashboard. She didn’t look quite real, as though caught in the act of fading from this world into the next one. Though young, she seemed crushed into early old age.
She sighted as she plopped into a seat, but there was no relaxation Her furtive eyes kept darting past me toward the bar. She seemed anxious.
I grabbed my notebook and wrote this poem.
las vegas airport
out from cheap
ugly to begin with
rocking back and forth,
she knows how
to baby herself
hair dyed to a fried and final black
thicked eyes to match
puffy with the hour
style, a cruel mistress
jammed her into this dress
tighter every day
red nails click broken rhythm
against the cold chrome arm
eyes dart as a redeye
spills a glazed and pasty cargo
to stumble toward the slots,
the islands of impossible, bright
in a sea of strangers