Travelling the Santa Fe Trail

By George Koukeas

(painting that inspired the poem: “Pack Train on the Rio Grande, 1879”)

Along the dusty trail

with a mule train,

atop our horses,

riding by covered wagons.

How beautiful the deep, blue sky

with trees strongly green,

surrounding the Santa Fe we tread,

fighting hunger and thirst,

drought and famine

Yet, how beautiful if we can resourceful be.

Then murderous Kiowa attack non-combatants.

Yet, the vision moves us along

Onwards to trade,

Onwards to running my business--

all in New Mexico,

where profits help me live decently on a harsh frontier

Onwards! for a mecca of ideas, commerce and a way of life await us!

The freedom of the plains is the Liberty of the man,

we pioneers, so brave, strong and true

out here and there, where we merchants can control our own destiny:

Laissez-faire! Keep governments away from here—

for the freedom of the plains is the Liberty of the man,

we pioneers, so brave, strong and true.

Why I Stopped going to Rodeos

By Erin Trampler Bell

The dust makes me sneeze.
I am less comfortable in jeans than I used to be.
I’m embarrassed by my allergy to horses.
The concept of conquest unsettles me.
My silver is too shiny.
My bandanas are all fake.
I began to feel scared for the clowns.
Sometimes I feel I am a clown in my daily life and why would I want to relive that?
I empathize with animals too much and it hurts.
Once a wild cow chased my car through a secret canyon and I see the same eyes in the corral.
I am too closely bound to the fates of horses.
I want to revere the sources of sustenance.
When the rope tightens I can’t breathe.
Would you want someone to tie a rope there to make you kick?
The next step is bullfights and I’ve been broken by the picadors.
My silver isn’t shiny enough.
Greasing the pig isn’t fair.
I would rather go to a powwow.
Every horse is a unicorn I can’t touch anymore.
I am torn by the ruthlessness of tradition.

worlds apart

As the world spins time moves in a cycle
all its own
as if places and people don't have a purpose.
Yet, we search and seek to find the scene
most suited for us.


By Ruth Burnham

Dad loved engines. From the two-hundred-ton diesel locomotives that he fixed for a living to the fist-sized glow plugs that flew his model airplanes on rare days off, Dad loved building, fixing, fine-tuning, and, especially, driving anything that ran on fuel. Early in my parents’ marriage he had been an invincible stock car racer in our small Montana town, maintaining an unbeatable 1951 Plymouth by means of his mechanical talent, until a collision on the dirt track totaled said Plymouth. Dad emerged unscathed, but Mom’s hysterics were enough to make him give up racing. He kept his helmet, however, a large, unwieldy bowl that resembled a football helmet with a bill and floppy leather straps that covered the ears and fastened under the chin. This 10-pound head protector, with Dad’s number 57 emblazoned in black electrician’s tape, hung on a peg in the garage, a garage as lovingly curated as any museum.

Years later, I found myself back in Dad’s garage, this one next to the home where he and Mom retired after having moved several times, through several garages. Dad, too, had passed away. His final garage was as spotless, orderly, and museum-like as all the others.  And there, among the vast assortment of equipment and vehicles, enshrined on blocks and secured between two sawhorses, a cracked, faded helmet on its well-worn seat, stood Dad’s Honda 50, a tribute to youth, to age, and to the freedom inherent in both.

I Am A Hunter

By Devorah Uriel                                                      

I am always vigilant. When I sit down in a room I make sure I can see the door and if possible know of at least one other way to exit. I scan faces, read bodies. I have radar for anger, for need, for fear.

I am a child but no longer childish. I have no time for such things.

I am a hunter of invisible weapons. Weapons held on the insides of grown-ups where they cannot be easily seen. Held in their thoughts and desires and perversions. Yes—I know what a perversion is. Weapons hidden away in polite circles. I can see them, poking out of a breast pocket or a pocket book. Shiny and sharp and eager to cut.

I hunt these weapons not to steal them but to survive them. The world is a battlefield and the landmines are in people’s hearts.  Evil intentions lurk everywhere like eager snipers. I cannot hope to disarm them all. I am not strong enough to take captives. I must be alert, cunning but not obvious, charming, at ease—and child-like.


By Darlina

I finally found a home

after two years being labeled “homeless,”

or, the “chronically homeless”


I wonder if I still am—

I guess I had fit the qualifications

they had written on the questionnaire


My experience of

poverty and violence

put me there


I love my new home

despite the labels

and the ongoing fear of

losing a home



I wonder if I belong anywhere,

even in my own home


I look out the window at the city below,

the wind chill factor way below—

my expectations way below


A man I had given a dollar to months before

brought a mattress to sleep behind the dumpster

right across from my window


I wish I could invite him into the building,

into the warmth


I never will


Every morning as I go to work

or somewhere

I see him


He looks at me

not perverted, not angry,

he looks at me with such sincerity,

with such loneliness


All I could do is look back at him,

into his eyes

and offer him a home,

of sorts

Hard Times R Now

By Peter Ferrara

The hardest time is mine, and mine alone, sleeping on concrete now, conveniently swapped from a Colorado prison bunk! Thank you Universe! Thank you Homer Simpson and family! Thank you President Obama! Thank you Harpers Magazine! Thank you elements hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, helium, and all others! Thank you Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking! Luke and Anikin Skywalker, Kaptain Kirk, Ferdinand Magellan.

Too tired to laugh, too scared to cry. Maybe tomorrow, thank you! Almighty Creator of all things, I am not the creator, I am part of the created. Periodic Table of Elements, you are part of manifested language of all creation! No innuendo, not in my backyard, not in my galaxy, maybe yours. Thank you Hollywood!

Breathe because we must; write because we can!


By Heather Maes

Here I go again. I’m all by myself with the urge. I got to have it, like a person who needs water after being in the dry desert after a hike. That urge that takes away a clean soul. God, please help me as I cry out loud “this will be the last time!” As I make this my last broken promise. Take this habit away from me. The urge itself is a storm moving in with dark clouds, loud thunder, and strikes of lightning.  Do I really need this fix of uncontrollable drugs and alcohol?  This addiction might just take hold of a clean-hearted soul.  A huge monster the mind produced, a broken mirror to be looked at least a thousand times. A devil that has taken precious relationships that god gave me only for them to disintegrate into a witch’s brew and boiling water. Will I ever learn? How will I ever have a life?

Then, just as the storm goes away, a small bit of light appears. That’s my hope. What will I do with it?  Will classes, meetings, and the small spark of the will to go on keep me going?  I thank god that I have made one more start and the mirror now stands unbroken with a new soul instead of a coffin filled with dirt and rusty nails.

The Road to Compassion

By Michael Sindler

Before you can discover compassion, you must step away from comfort. You must drain the moat, lift the gates of the fort. You must sweep the path of branches and leaves to make it welcoming for the unforeseen sojourner. You must shed, snake-like, exposing self to get the feel of another skin. You must stand or dance drenched in rain barefoot on sharp stones to feel the pain you know to be the traveler’s burden.

You have to take the hurt in to release it with an anguished, silent screaming breath to know the sorrow of a stranger’s struggle or a loved one’s death, to not let a blanket, warm with your own heat, become little more than a shroud, a winding sheet under which you are but some kind of ghost unable to be a welcoming host to those lost and injured, blind, dumb, crippled, and needy souls that come onto your path and walk or crawl beside you and make you think that you deserve more than others sharing this path, this road, this planet we call Earth. Prepare that road.

Becoming Grounded by Fazal Sheikh's "Common Ground"

By Ann Moore

The powerful assortment of photographs in the art exhibit, Common Ground by Fazal Sheikh, has a heavy theme for the viewer to reflect on. This exhibit is currently at the Denver Art Museum in downtown Denver and will be on display until November 12, 2017. All visitors get to see this exhibit with the cost of the daily entrance fee. There are 170 photos in this exhibit taken between 1989 and 2013. As I walked into the exhibit there was a sadness that overcame me as the faces of impoverished people stared down at me. (Common Ground: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, 1989-2013.)

Fazal Sheikh, born in New York in 1965, is known for documenting people from impoverished and marginalized parts of the world through portrait photography. After graduating from Princeton University, Sheikh decided to travel to places all over the world to look at people who lived in refugee camp communities. Some of the places he traveled for this project specifically was Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Sheikh has won many awards and is featured in museums all over the world. As his own website states, “Sheikh conceived of a series of projects that would engage an international audience and further their understanding of complex human rights issues around the world,” (Fazal Sheikh). He depicts poverty and people living in shocking conditions. He is a true warrior for human rights, as he documents human living conditions across the globe. (Fazal Sheikh)

Sheikh is not known for a specific image, but rather his work as a whole. People seem to be more interested with his series compared to individual photos. He has a unique style that many artists do not have. Sheikh shoots his images all in black and white to create a deeper response from the viewers when looking upon his images. Black and white is typically used to represent a timelessness effect making the subject more predominant to the viewer. There is no color to distract the eye. His main subjects in his photographs are people and places that are not originally outstanding. But the way he is able to capture and depict the moment makes the image breathtaking. As another reviewer of Sheikh’s states, “The solemnity of Mr. Sheikh's sitters--many looking directly into the camera, others down or away--reflects the time (hours, days, weeks) he has devoted to learning some part of their story. Whatever ugly or horrible scenes witnessed by these women, men and children, most of whom are named, are safely outside the frame when he clicks the shutter” (Woodward). Most of his images are close up portraits, but Sheikh has a variety of styles. The images can be uncomfortable to people because they can appear to be too close for comfort to the subject. Which creates a unique use of space. This adds to theme since this is not a comfortable topic. One image that shows this is Abshro Aden, depicting a Women’s Leader from a Somali Refugee Camp located in Kenya. This image was originally in the 2000 series, A Camel for the Son. His style is similar in style and theme to Dorothea Lange. Lange is most known for her photographs taken during The Great Depression focusing on the heartbreak of people shown through photography. (25 of the most iconic photographs.)

Photography is a way for an artist to capture a specific moment in time and make an insignificant moment seem significant. Over the years this art medium has begun to take shape. Photography can make viewers see an image from the exact perspective the artist did. It can transport us through time and to other places around the world. This is why Sheikh decided to use this medium. Other mediums such as drawings or paintings wouldn’t give the viewers the same sort of view though Sheikh’s eyes. Photography takes people out of their normal element and gives them a glace into other parts of the world. Instead of hearing about how refugees in camps are living, we can see the hardship with our own eyes. We can feel the pain of the people shown what appears to be a different word. Although these photos are taken from places that are known among people, it seems to be much further from the reality our culture is used to. This can increase the shock factor to viewers because life is so different to them compared to the people revealed in the photographs.

As I walked through the exhibit, my heart couldn’t help but feel heavy as the black and white photos stared back at me. I was overwhelmed by all the photos. Overpowering the viewer with the large amount of images may have been Sheikh’s intention. The more images there are, the more the onlookers are to gather a common theme among the series. There was a large amount of photos in a small environment. At first I thought that all the photos were staged from other communities around the world, but as I continued through the exhibit I realized I was mistaken. Typically portrait photographers capture beauty though posing and digital editing. Sheikh decided to challenge this norm. He took portraits of people in unconventional areas which resembled beauty. The air in the exhibit felt heavy. Everyone walking though was silent out of reverence for the people in the photos. As much as I wanted to turn around and leave I felt it was my duty as a human being to continue on to see what kind of suffering they had to live through. The despair in the eyes of fathers, mothers, children, and elderly was absolutely indescribable. I have not ever seen such an example of raw human emotion depicted in this particular way. I thought this was fascinating that the artist made the viewers get the sense of wanting to turn away from the images. As a society, we do not like to look at people in despair. It is hard to think what others go through in different locations around the world. It is easier for us to turn a blind eye away from these people suffering and continue on in our own lives. Sheikh is forcing the public to contemplate something out of our element.

I believe everyone should have the chance to go see this exhibit before it leaves the Denver Art Museum on the 12th of this month. It is very powerful and will make you think differently about the meaning of hardship. It is a show that has images a person would shy away from. Sheikh tries to lure the viewers in and have them temporarily escape across the world. Come prepared to have your heart sink with heavy feelings but have your mind come to new thoughts.

Works Cited

“Common Ground: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh, 1989-2013.” Denver Art Museum,

“Fazal Sheikh.” Home, Fazal Sheikh, 27 July 2017,

Woodward, Richard B. "'Homelands and Histories: Photographs by Fazal Sheikh' Review: Capturing Global Humanity; Fazal Sheikh Documents the World's Trouble Spots, Making Dignified Portraits of the People Who Live in them." Wall Street Journal (Online), May 09, 2017, ProQuest Central,

“25 of the most iconic photographs.” CNN, Cable News Network, 27 Sept. 2016,

Mama's Secret

By Devorah Uriel

Mama’s pacing and yelling a lot of words but all I hear is the danger in her voice.  Padgey and Butch look almost grown up, except that they’re calm.  Padgey hold’s Trina by the hand because she’s likely to wander off.  I’m 7 and old enough to follow along without anyone paying much attention. 

The courtroom looks like a big old church.  Seems like it’s mostly made of rocks. It smells like laundry left in the washer too long. There aren’t hardly any windows but there’s plenty of lights so it’s bright enough. The smooth floors and the ceiling so far away make lots of space for voices to bounce around in.  We go into a big room with rows and rows of pews. There is a separate area where the judge stays-like a priest.  I wonder if he’ll be a nice man. 

We take our seats in the back pew. Padgey goes in first because she’s the oldest. Trina and Butchy in the middle, then me. I’m next to mama who sits on the aisle. The judge isn’t here yet. We just sit.  Nobody talks.  There are lots of other families sitting in the pews. They talk in whispers, smoothing skirts and straightening ties. The girls in front of me have bows in their hair. Stupid bows.   

A door opens and some people come in through a side door into the priest space. One of them must be the judge because he takes a seat at the big desk that’s up high. He has silver hair and black-rimmed glasses. He pulls a little chain on the lamp and is looking at papers. Something about the way his mouth is, like a straight hard line-makes me look away.

Mama said daddy will be here today and that the judge is gonna try and take us kids away from her. I haven’t seen Daddy since me and Butchy ran away to California on the train. That trip sure did cause a lot of trouble. Mama said we are to be real good, not talk to Daddy and tell the judge how much we love her. The hardest one of those will be not to talk to Daddy. Mama smiles at us with that tight smile that says “remember what I told you.” We all nod without smiling back. 

I hear the big doors open and I twist in my seat to see. I know it’s him though. I just know. He looks so handsome. He shaved and put on a nice clean blue shirt with buttons.  His blue eyes sparkle when he winks at me. I want to run and jump in his arms so bad- but I know better.  Still, when he smiles at me I smile back. I’m real careful not to look at Mama after that. I hope Daddy hasn’t had his Bud today. Daddy’s nickname is Bud after his favorite beer. Daddy likes beer even more than I like ice cream.

“SmithvsThomas”, please come forward.  She says it loud but she still sounds like a little bird. The lady stands at the railing with her clipboard and looks right at us.  Her black dress seems too big for her and I wonder if she’s really a grown up. She motions for Mama and daddy to come up there-to the priest place.  Daddy gets there first and Mama is clearly mad about that.  Mama rushes forward brushing off her skirt as she walks.  She looks beautiful with her dark hair piled on top of her head. The woman with the clipboard is reading something to Mama and daddy but I can’t hear anything.

I bump my shoulder into Butch. “Do you think they’ll take us away?” 

“Naw. I kinda wish they would though.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“I’m ready to be on my own.” I don’t say anything. I think about what that would be like for Butch to be gone. Mama and Butch fight—a lot.  He’s getting pretty big and strong.  Sometimes he fights back. Sometimes he’s mean to me. I don’t want him to go though. He messes my hair and I laugh. 

“Want to see if we can get closer and hear?” Before I can answer he drops to the floor and slides under the pew in front of us, just missing the girls with the bows. 

Padgey whispers between clenched teeth-“get back here!”  But he’s gone. I think about it for a second and then I’m after him faster that lickety can split. 

Several rows up I peek above the pews and wave at Padgey and Trina. Trina giggles. I duck behind the pew and pop up again mouthing peek-a-boo. Trina laughs and squeals loudly. Even Padgey smiles. I look around. Mama and Daddy are talking to the judge now. I can’t see Butch anywhere. Oh there he is! He’s right in the front row lying down like he’s taking a nap! He waves at me. I smile. He wants to get in trouble. Mama says trouble is his hobby. I stay where I am. It’s easy to hear Mama now, she’s practically screaming.

“He took her out of state! How is that good parenting?” 

“Lower your voice Mrs. Thomas.”

“Don’t call me by that filthy name.” 

“Lower your voice Mrs. Smith or I will find you in contempt of court!”

“He’s an asshole!”

Now Daddy’s yelling too. Daddy doesn’t often yell but mama has a way with him. 

Mama is not exactly right. Daddy didn’t take us out of state. Butchy and me hopped a train all by ourselves. Daddy actually brought us back. Eventually.

“Psst! Over here!” Butchy is calling me to come over. He’s standing up on the pew and his hands are together fist-to-fist. He holds one fist close to his left eye and slowly looks around the room like he’s a pirate looking for land. When he spots me through his telescope he jumps as if surprised and nearly falls off the pew.  A loud laugh explodes from me and my knees give in.  I’m afraid I might pee my pants so I cross my legs and squeeze tight.  Mama, daddy and the judge all look at me and then at Butch. Butch jumps over the back of the pew and starts running down the length of the next row, still with hands in search position. Laughing, I follow him at a full run. 

Mama yells for us to stop it and sit down. Her voice bounces around the room and it sounds like there are 3 of her. Trina gets away from Padgey and runs after me. She trips and falls. She sure has good lungs. I look at Padgey. She just shakes her head and walks right out of the courtroom so I run to Trina and give her a hug. Mama runs after Butch and daddy runs after me. I don’t know why but since everyone is running I decide to run some more too. Nowhere in particular, just around the courtroom.

A loud pounding brings us all to a stop. The judge is standing with a wooden hammer in his hand.  He’s red in the face and shaking his head.

“Order! Order!” he shouts.

Butch yells, “I’ll order French Fries!” Trina and I fall to the floor laughing.  Mom catches Butch by the back of the shirt and falls onto the floor on top of him.  She sits across him and her nice skirt is all scrunched up around her hips showing her garters and a long rip in her stockings. She hits Butch real hard, over and over. Butch covers his face with his arms. Daddy runs over and pulls her off. Then mama hits daddy. Pow! Daddy’s nose starts to bleed. The blood looks purple on his shirt and I remembered that red and blue make purple.

A policeman runs over and takes both of Mama’s arms and holds them behind her back.  Another policeman takes daddy. I’m not laughing anymore. I run to Mama but someone grabs me. I hear Mama’s policeman say to the other one “she’s fuckin’ crazy”. Mama is still yelling at Daddy so she doesn’t hear the policeman. Good thing for him.

Mama’s crazy.  Mama’s crazy.  I hope I didn’t say that out loud. I twist around to see who’s got me. It’s the lady with the clipboard.  The little bird.  She smiles at me and I smile back.  She lets me go.  I like birds.  I wonder who else knows mama’s crazy.  Not Padgey and Butch.  Daddy never said anything.  Does Mama know? I’m probably the only person who knows.  Me and the policemen.

We know Mama’s secret.

Like Thousands of Others, My Father Brought Back Souvenirs from the War

By Esther Ann Griswold

Here is a photo, black and white:

My father, 40 years old,

Standing in mud up to his shins

At an army camp

in Paupau, New Guinea.

It is the war. 

He is smiling at the camera.


Seventy years later,

The slim, hand-carved walking stick

He brought back from the war

Is my daily companion.


Thirty-six inches tall, made from

Dark walnut wood,

White lime rubbed into incised

Designs, with two small human figures

Standing back to back, guarding

The user of the stick.


A man from New Guinea, name unknown,

Traded this splendid creation

To my father, for….what?

American coins? Two tins of spam?

Perhaps bullet casings, plus

An unused army cap.


I know what happened

To my father: the medals, the struggles,

Successes and illness.

But what became of the carver?


Was he sent to the mines, or

Killed in a raid

By a neighboring tribe?

Or did he learn the language of

The colonizers and sit in an office,

Enjoying some small slice of power.


Examining the photo of my father,

I imagine the artisan standing

Just beyond the camera’s lens,

Wishing these strangers would leave.


And what of the carver’s children?

Do they have PhDs?  Are they are world travelers?

How I yearn to tell them

Of the long arc of their father’s

Elegant work, which reaches

Through time and space

To support an old woman

On the other side of the world.