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August 20, 2014

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Poetic justice doesn’t get much more literal than this

Plaque with poem about desperate character stolen by — guess who

Image

Steve Marcus

A pedestrian crosses the Poets Bridge in downtown Las Vegas.

You’ve heard of poetic justice. Well, this was poetic crime, a perfect unity of medium, message and action.

First, the stolen item is a poem, a poem engraved on a plaque, a plaque that was ripped from its mounting on a minor civic monument downtown at Lewis Avenue and Fourth Street.

Second, the poem is entitled “The Long Shot” and describes the seedy history of Las Vegas and the desperate characters who made it, “made their own luck, Selling it to all takers.” This is a poem that had it coming.

And third, the poem wasn’t stolen for its artistic merit but for the bronze plaque it was engraved on. Scrap bronze goes for more than $1 a pound these days because of all the copper in it. If the poem hasn’t been melted down, it’s almost certainly sitting in a pile awaiting the furnace. The poem, alas, has not been recovered.

But the poet has.

“For about 30 seconds, I was very upset,” Gregory Crosby said, remembering how he felt when he got a call last week telling him his poem was gone. “But then I just got philosophical about it.”

Philosophical?

Well, Crosby said, there’s something fitting about a desperate character stealing his poem about desperate characters, just to sell it for scrap. Also, while he felt having his poem put on a plaque was his shot at “a bit of dime store immortality,” he said having it stolen is a good reminder that nothing lasts in Las Vegas.

Also helping out, philosophywise, is the fact that Crosby, who spent his formative years in Las Vegas and worked here as a critic and freelance writer, now lives in New York City. And the poem is not gone but about to be published in an anthology due out in August (“Literary Nevada,” University of Nevada Press, 900 pages, $29.95 paperback, $60 hardcover).

And if he needed further consolation, Las Vegas deputy city marshals have apprehended a suspect. The marshals, acting on a tip, arrested one Allen Markey, age 36. They think he stole not only the poem plaque but two nonpoetic dedication plaques in the same plaza. Also, they think he stole copper wire out of street lamps.

He has been charged with grand larceny, possession of stolen property and malicious destruction of property, and is awaiting trial.

City spokesman Jace Radke said the city arts commission intends to replace all three plaques, including one that will be inscribed with “The Long Shot.”

The poet could be philosophical about that, too.

“For my own ego, I hope the commission does replace it,” Crosby said. “Maybe they can use some kind of material that’s not bronze.”

•••

Gregory Crosby

On the dedication of the Poets Bridge, Lewis Avenue Corridor, Las Vegas, September 24, 2002

After the springs that brought them, after the fort, abandoned;

After ranches became grids and lots became cottages and gardens;

After white men in high collars stood in sunlight’s oven, checking

Their railroad watches; after the dice began to tumble and the river

Became a lake, subdued by its concrete mansion; after the citizens

Grew whiskers every May, and played the pioneer while a giant

Cowboy of neon greeted them with a Howdy like thunder; after

They worked and drank and stopped at that first sign of Permission,

Sign of the Windmill; after the gunners learned their deadly art,

Preparing the sky for the scattering of atoms; after the Psychopath

Brought glamour and death and businessmen with strange names

Who skimmed the new sea of green like birds diving at the bounty

Of the oceans; after the Voice became a Chairman, and the lounge

Became a temple; after girls became feathered, legs up to necks,

And fantasy sprung wildly from the arid land in every direction;

After a billionaire scrubbed his thin hands yet again while a King

Re-enacted, nightly, his coronation, and Our Thing withered into

The bottom lines of corporations; after white tigers roamed, and

Juice flowed like elixir of life from every connection; after the boom,

The tile and the stucco, sprinkler heads gushing while the turnstile

Spun and 4,000 came each month for new starts, their second and

Third and fourth chances; after the implosions, the unions, the

Retirees, the families that raised their children, the American

Dreamers who beat the odds and those who lost, the suckers, the

Addicted; after all this, when the springs of pleasure and promise,

Of profit and providence have long since expired, dry as the

Font that once drew the thirst of the weary into the valley, and

The cities that line the boulevard of this city fall into ruin,

They will look upon us, saying, They made their own luck.

Selling it to all takers, they built a world like no other,

And lived in it, and thrived there, and shone and sparkled,

Glittering in the sleepless night, each of them a facet,

A brilliance, of the strange diamond they had fashioned;

A million to one that such a place ever happened.

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