Fort Collins, Colorado: A Portrait (Johannah Racz Knudson)

We forget the connection between fort and fortress, as in keep out. Still, this town’s high on the best places to live lists, reason for another block of pricey apartments. Antifreeze-blue port-a-potties and little men on steel girders animate construction sites. In the shadow of mega churches, minor houses of God hang their crosses in strip malls. Pickup trucks fume at red lights, hopped up on diesel and rage. They gun it on green, dumping slugs of black smoke.

Marijuana is legal within city limits since 2014 and whiskey since 1972. You wouldn’t guess this town was ever dry. People like to say whiskey almost as much as they like drinking it. The way they say it around here, Jew is a slur. It makes the rounds at the middle school, spills over at the homecoming bonfire at my son’s high school. A boy inaugurates his man-voice by bellowing fucking Jew into the flames. His name is Daniel or Henry or Hunter. His teeth are as white as the elastic band of his underwear. At the university, police pat down two young Indigenous men. On campus, another swastika. A white girl puts on blackface and then explains, just kidding.

The train still blasts through the center of town, bisecting the east-west commute, bringing traffic to a seething standstill. Every few years, someone leaps or crawls in front of it to their definitive death: blunt force or decapitation. I think of Anna Karenina. Synopses say she threw herself under a train, phrasing too romantic for a town strung on a single north-south highway where once a woman was shot through the neck while driving through Loveland. There’s active shooter training at the synagogue on Sunday. In Old Town, someone cleans up piles of Saturday night puke.

In the mountains, cyanide dissolves residual silver-rush ore into cash. The groundwater swells with formaldehyde. An uncapped gas line explodes in a new suburb. A semi plows into standing traffic near a mountain pass, launches 2x4s across the highway, and lights up an inferno. On a patio across the street from the homeless shelter, patrons dine on figs and bone marrow.


Johannah Racz Knudson works as a writer and writing coach in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Her work has appeared in Threadcount, Superstition Review, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Sycamore Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University and resides in Fort Collins, Colorado with three humans of varying heights and temperaments.


image: Bryan Harvey