Great States Beauty Contest

In Colorado, everyone tells me
that New Mexico is lovely
with snow capped peaks, narrow
rivers and antelope bounding across
quiet state roads, near herds of pine.

It’s like Helen of Troy
telling Cleopatra that Cleopatra possesses
all the world’s beauty. Beauty
is global, found in each
cranny and nook on Earth.

Colorado, too, is a knockout.
A person can go faint
looking straight into the heart
of the Rocky Mountain state.
Colorado flashes choppy river eyes.

These places could stack trophies
collected from all the praise
that flows to them, plentiful
fish in Spring rushing upstream.

These lands take no bows.
Their pride is muted. Weather changes
abruptly, a flash of rain
or sunshine as scene transition
to backlight a moving sky.


Frown Town

All my adult life I’ve been driving into my hometown for holidays.
I don’t feel like a stranger. I feel like confetti
drizzling slowly down in five different states.
Six, if you allow me to count confusion.

Today I make it home (or what once was) and everyone in town
is frowning or smirking or showing teeth.
Every visit, I see more frowns.
They were always there like cavities, but I dismissed them.
Maybe I’m frowning, too, etched in Sharpie on my face.

Las Vegas, New Mexico: I love you even though
I tell people I’m from Santa Fe because
it’s exhausting to explain that there are two Las Vegases.
Mine is small and clutching
onto the past with white knuckles.
Oh Vegas, let’s look forward to rocket cars,
a town filled with jobs, and ten more dishes
where we can use red and green chile. You are my corazon
so let’s pour into the streets where we learned
to ride bicycles and fall in and out of love
with smiles as bright as stars. We’ll illuminate
the whole world and outshine any other Las Vegas
that dares to enter our orbit.



Fernando always smiles wider
on these days. Cassie makes cider
on these days. When weather’s milder,
the three of us will order pizza and
watch Aladdin on repeat, thoughts of sand
on my mind as I grab another slice
and slink back on the couch, nice
smells rising from the cheese.
Jasmine sings on screen, trees
outside making sounds, leaves
rattling against the outside wall.
The genie, blue frenzy, starts to fall.


Denver Is

Coffee and dogs on every corner, sculpted beards
hovering over the aroma of tasty, local beer.
Thin people jogging around me in dizzying squares.
Cumbias and mariachi sprinkling from back yards
in Mexican neighborhoods, the whiff of carne asada
present on the weekend.

Denver is a souvenir photograph
with background mountains.
An Uber ride to Coors Field
to cheer on the Rockies. It’s suburb
after suburb after suburb. It’s smiling faces
watering lawns or pulling trash bins.
Automatic return waves when I wave first.

It’s a litany of cities and towns covering
a national map, and sometimes a world one,
when people are asked, “Where are you from originally?”
It’s police sirens at two thirty in the morning.
It’s a helicopter flying the city block by block
in a clear night mural sky. It’s hybrids
that zoom the narrow streets like frightened horses fleeing
the city for a weekend in Aspen.

Denver is pacing my small apartment in quarantine.
Denver feels like it’s growing around me.
Denver feels like it’s too cool for school.
Denver feels how I feel, proud but trying
to prove its worth. Denver is a stranger
that I’ve seen just enough times to almost know.


Aaron Rudolph is the author of the poetry collections Sacred Things (Bridge Burner’s, 2002) and The Sombrero Galaxy (Strawberry Hedgehog, 2017). He attended graduate school for creative writing at Minnesota State University, Mankato and Texas Tech University. Aaron is the founding editor of Cuento Magazine and he teaches literature and writing at the Early College of Arvada in Colorado. See Aaron in issue One.
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