This is West – Dear Samantha


Dear Samantha,

It’s been hard out here in the desert without you, even though the desert here in Afghanistan often looks a lot like New Mexico. I want you to know I got your letter with the picture of you at the Grand Canyon with your mom. Looks like fun! I don’t have any pictures to give you, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot and about New Mexico a lot, so I want tell you about what I’ve been thinking.

I love landscapes, and I love you. Have I told you that? Let me rephrase that: I love you first and foremost. And I also love landscapes.

Shall I compare thee to a Western landscape? (Forgive me my cheesiness just this once?)

No allusions to mountains or valleys
as tempting as it is
No importune bodily wonderlands
as John Mayer would have it
No verdant greens
No broad undulating oceans
No hidden caves

Only endless wind-swept plains
beneath a starry sky
Only a woven blanket of knee-high grass
beneath the unobscured sun
Only red-fire sunsets
Only towering majestic buttes
Only bastions of clouds

The West is open.
The West is a world that everyone can see from a great distance.
The West is honest.
The West is a world where secret things hide in plain sight.
The West is bright.
The West is a world where sunlight touches the bones of the dead.

Okay, so that last line wasn’t so romantic, but let me tell you, the romantic poets didn’t understand the beauty of lack. It’s obvious out here where there’s nothing. King Solomon made so much of the places we think of when we think of love, but what about the places we see every day?

I love the thin hairs on the plains of your beautiful arms. I love the soft barren flats of your shoulder blades. I love the complexity of your scrub oak fingers. I love the oases of your algae green eyes.

I’ve been thinking about you when I walk over a dried lakebed that is cracked in a pattern like skin seen up close. You are Western, Samantha. You are a breath of air in a wide open space, and I can’t see the ends of you. The romantics loved gardens because gardens are finite, and they loved mountains because they are grand but also finite. Within definition and within control. A New Mexico plain is infinite to someone as small as me and yet solid, trustworthy, and giving. Like you, Samantha. I love that.

Anyway, looking forward to your next letter. Don’t worry too much about me out here; it’s pretty safe.

Missing you lots,


(Fiction and Photography by Alexander Pappalardo)

Published by

El Portal

Eastern New Mexico University’s literary magazine, El Portal, offers a venue for the work of writers, artists and photographers. ENMU students, national, and international writers are welcome to submit their original, previously unpublished short stories, plays, poetry and photography. No entry fees are charged. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in each category (only ENMU students qualify). El Portal is published each semester at Eastern thanks to Dr. Jack Williamson, a world-renowned science fiction writer and professor emeritus at ENMU who underwrote the publication. El Portal has been published since 1939.