Calvin’s Salvage

Calvin's Salvage photo

The tow truck’s wheels wobbled through the rows of old cars and scrap. Calvin had considered getting one of the new hover models, but that was before the spaceport had come in. A year ago this lot covered nearly half-a-mile with rows stacked three cars high. Back then, Calvin’s Salvage was booming and his destiny was certain. Now, destiny dwindled with his lot.

Calvin wound the wobbly truck out the back of the lot into his acreage where he and the kids had built a tree fort in the big spruce. Charles and Antoine liked to play knights, and sometimes Calvin played the giant attacking the castle. No games now. The kids had left with their mother to stay with her parents. If the spaceport kept snatching up all the property, there would never be another game played in that spruce.

Ida had pleaded for Calvin to sell the lot and come with her and the kids. Even through all their long arguments, Calvin had believed things would turn around; that the spaceport couldn’t conquer the whole town, that Calvin’s Salvage would survive.

It took months—all the way to the first launch—for Calvin to see that Ida was right.

The wobbly wheels halted on the hill at the edge of Calvin’s property, right outside the spaceport’s safety radius, meaning Calvin was not legally obligated to sell. At one point Calvin had considered this a blessing. Now it was a cruel joke.

From his hill he could see the spaceport, about the size of a dime if he held one up at arm’s length. Even from this distance he could tell that the shuttle was in place at the departure dock.

Closer by, Calvin saw the brick factory that had kept the town’s economy running for so many years and also the drive-in theater which had reliably entertained the town for almost as long. Both had the misfortune of being located directly in the safety radius and were forced to sell early. Perhaps they were the blessed ones: they never had false hope. One by one the town was bought out by the spaceport. Calvin himself had been offered a generous sum, but this lot was his destiny. He built a family and a home here. No sum would have been large enough to outbid destiny.

The shuttle’s engines churned fire and Calvin felt his destiny soaring off this planet along with the shuttle. He shielded his eyes, watching the unimaginably sophisticated metal tube rise farther into the atmosphere. The shuttle flew high and his heart sank so low.

Calvin sighed and rested his head on the steering wheel, then an enormous explosion a thousand feet in the air sent him clambering to the floor of the truck. After a second, he uncovered his head to see a fireball, much larger than a dime, hurling pieces of the sophisticated metal tube in all directions. Chunks of mangled flaming wreckage rained down for miles around.

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

Inherent Process

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It smelled of moisture when he awoke: a moisture he had not smelled since he moved to the dry, searing west. The lengthy downpour coated and seeped into every permeable surface, creating an aura fueled by the extracted dust seeping out of every dried up, seemingly hollow crevice—a stagnant, murky smell which co-mingled with the fresh scents bursting off the rain drops as they shattered like small shards of fine glass upon the inflexibly crisp landscape that is what he now called home.

His senses had to isolate the intoxicating scent of fresh rain, a type of rain that sought to sanitize every depraved act committed upon the land and the energetic chaos carried by those calling it home. What did a soaking rain offer his new home? What did the entwining smells of dusty, aging wood and bitter, dry weeds offer? Weeds that were furiously growing out of the myriad of cracks throughout the pressed pavement parking lots along the small town’s one-street business district. What mischievous deeds were being cleansed by the lengthy rain and pushed out of their cozy, arid homes?

Looking back at the events that transpired, he pinpointed it was 1986 when the inevitable move to the west began its path. He was twenty-six years old and had just relocated to the top of the social hierarchy in his profession, a profession he found satisfied his complex thought process. A thought process that engrossed every ounce of his being, so much so he had no choice but to adhere to the inherent process occurring within him—which meant his profession was of the utmost importance. But his profession was gone and, since the move to his new home, he couldn’t shake the continual movie reel using his mind’s eye, his dreams as its projector.

It was one of those chance events that flew in, slapped him in the face, shit on his head, kicked his legs from underneath him, and slammed him flat on his ass, gasping for air—leaving him wondering in that split second if he had forgotten how to breath.

(Fiction and Photography by Fawn Hon-Hinton)

This is West – A Stillness

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It isn’t sunset; not yet.

The sky colors with the haze of the in-between: clouds smeared across the horizon and ringed with gold by the late-afternoon sun. The blue begins to pale. Birds chatter in the tall elm trees and soar in circles around their nests. Bugs flock to stagnant pools of rainwater and flit around weeds grown taller than the fences which surround them. A fox crosses the crumbling asphalt laced with stubborn greenery and disappears.

One day the Earth remembered how to breathe and the world went still.

What’s left are ruins: homes abandoned in the wake of a cataclysm, levelled or standing, water-logged or charred to husks. When Earth decided it was time for the end, she spared almost no one. Humanity tamed the land, mastered disease, and conquered uncertainty. But in the end its undoing was the one thing it never managed to reign in: the unrelenting ferocity of natural disaster.

These days there’s a quiet that doesn’t disappear.

Merril watches a flock of blackbirds take to the sky, punctuating the silence with an avian ballet. It’s the same every summer: each night, as the sun begins to slip away, the sweeping murmurations twist and twirl among the clouds in perfect synchronicity. She watches until the birds disappear and the crickets sing, then locks herself inside the old one-bedroom house at the end of Glorieta Circle.

She is fifty-two years old. Thirty years have passed since an F5 tornado levelled her hometown. Eight years have passed since she buried her husband under a sprawling oak tree in Oklahoma. It’s been fourteen months since she last saw another human being.

The little hole-in-the-ground Texan town she’s haunted for eight months broadcasts its seclusion in semi-collapsed buildings overrun by Virginia creeper and trumpet vines, fountain grass and thistle. There’s a stream not far from her home with water clean enough to drink and enough game lurking in the shadows to eat well a few times each week. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a living.

When food gets scarce she hunts with her husband’s old rifle, picking rabbits and coyote off with a hand steadied by years of practice. Most days she favors traps. Most days the roar of the rifle sounds displaced and irreverent: a reminder that although she survives, she is not home.

In an abandoned Texan suburb thirty years after the end, she’s certain humanity was never home.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

Welcome Back! (Now Accepting Submissions)

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

El Portal is officially back from its summer vacation! Be on the lookout for the return of This is West this Friday, August 5th.

We’re also now accepting submissions for the Spring 2017 issue! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are welcome internationally. Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline October 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

With the start of the 2016-2017 school year on the horizon, the Fall 2016 issue is well on its way to publication and is full of excellent works by very talented authors. In the meantime, why not check out our previous issue?

El Portal Spring 2016 can be found here.

Thank you! We’ll see you in August!

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

The school year has officially ended here at Eastern New Mexico University and El Portal is going on its summer break. Before we do, however, we have a few things we’d like to say.

First and foremost, we would like to extend a thank you to our departing staff: Alex Pappalardo, Jade Smith, and Laura Jean Schneider. Alex and Jade have been staff writers on the blog since October of this year and have produced some truly excellent flash fiction pieces which can be read here. Likewise, Laura Jean and Alex have provided insightful help and support during El Portal‘s editorial process. Each of these staff members have been a key part of making El Portal what it is and will be sorely missed. Thank you all!

Likewise, we would like to extend a thank you to our contributors and readers. Thanks to you all, we’ve seen a large upsurge in interest and hope this trend continues. Full lists of contributors can be found at each of the links below.

During the 2015-2016 school year, El Portal produced two of its best issues yet, which can be read at the following links:

Fall 2015 Issue

Spring 2016 Issue

Finally, be on the lookout for El Portal’s Fall 2016 issue when we return. (Not to spoil too much, but the lineup’s pretty fantastic.) Thanks for another great year, readers, and we’ll see you in August!

This is West – Seed of Muse

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“Trapped Tumbleweeds” by USFWS Mountain-Prairie. Found on Wikimedia Commons.

The woman sat staring into the milky swirls of her latte, hands folded in her lap. In the epicenter of the creamy cyclone in her cup, she felt a beginning, an inkling, a seed. Her memories and thoughts swarmed about the motionless center, organizing themselves into the curved arms of a story, and she envisioned how her last book had come to success. How the last seed had become a nation.

It began with the seed, the genetic offspring of a thousand works before it, waiting in a dry western soil. Then the rains came – the life occurrences and experiences – that flooded water onto the plains of her thoughts and allowed the seed to germinate. The seed reached deeper into the damp red earth, pulling ancient and established prose into its being, and it reached higher, stretching toward the unobstructed light of new possibility. Deeper it grew and higher it stretched, until the thousand green arms of its sentences fluttered in the open air for all to see.

Except it was not done growing yet. New limbs branched off of old ones, old branches died and fell away, and editorial/evolutionary concessions redistributed resources to the parts of the plant that needed them most. Upon reaching full maturity, the tumbleweed then freed itself of its author. It dried up and waited for a strong wind.

The work of art did not wait long before a powerful and unlikely gust rushed down from the north, exclamations of praise in the New York Times sweeping up the story and sending it hurtling southward. With it, numberless other stories skipped along, getting caught up on fence lines of indifference, distaste, or obscurity. But the woman’s book rolled on, a thousand seeds falling on fertile minds as it passed from reader to reader, driven by the weather phenomenon of social attention.

Hard work had won the woman’s book the validation it deserved. Hard work and a lot of luck. She brushed her obsidian hair back behind her ear and lifted the latte to her mouth. She had been lucky. Lucky that her seed had fallen on good soil, lucky that a prominent editor had crossed paths with the wandering book, lucky that her work trundled into the social scene at the right time, and lucky that it hadn’t gotten caught up with the overwhelming body of fictional work being produced and lost in a pile of weeds.

Of course, she thought while returning her rectangular reading glasses to her face, it takes hard work to be lucky.

She put down her latte, picked up a pencil, and began scribbling the next seed on her receipt.

(Fiction by Alex Pappalardo)

El Portal – Spring 2016

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Readers can now access the PDF version of El Portal’s Spring 2016 issue. Click on the image above to access the PDF file. If you have any questions about the Spring 2016 issue, please feel free to contact the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Full List of Contributors:

Phillip Parotti “Antiquarian Mishaps”

Stephen Cloud “Pop Runs Out of Gas, and Mom Says I Told You So”

Paula Friedman “Photograph, Chavez Ravine: 1948: Girl Brushing Sister’s Hair”

Paula Friedman “Little Mexico”

Kristin Kaz “on the train the people wave at you”

Gabriella Garofalo “She hurled you to a land where”

Lucas Smith “Orange County, Viceroyalty of New Spain, 2002 A.D.”

Gloria Keeley “Behind the House”

Tracie Campbell “Shattered Dishes, Broken Lives”

Steve Bellin-Oka “Late April Song”

Steve Bellin-Oka “San Francisco, June 1999”

Ann Howells “Where Tumbleweed Go to Die”

Ann Howells “Dauber”

Carla Ruiz “Untitled 1”

Carla Ruiz “Untitled 2”

Fawn Hon-Hinton “Flake”

Tasha Vice “Puddles on the Plains”

Tasha Vice “South Florida Mill”

Samantha Pilecki “An Idle Mind”

Lowell Jaeger “Pain”

Lowell Jaeger “At the County Library Used Book Sale Fund-Raiser”

Elena Botts “if you are walking in the garden”

Jack Buck “The History of Furniture and Wood Flooring in East Texas”

Mark Trechock “Directions”

Mark Trechock “Hash Browns”

John Walser “A Love Supreme”

John Walser “Telemachus”

Jason Namey “And the Clay Was Not Redder”

Atri Majumder “Immature”

Atri Majumder “Frozen Whirl”

Starlin Waters “One would think a fountain would have”

Chelsea Morse “Drought”

This is West – A Dirt Town Brown and Cupcakes

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I could tell it hurt. This time was different. He winced when I said it and in that moment the words solidified for me and I chewed it up with green chili and warm pizza dough and swallowed.

“You’ll be back,” he mumbled with confidence. He spoke into a brown ale that was our favorite. It was hardly ever available anymore at a local pub where we’d met.

“Let’s talk about something else. How did the interview go?” I asked over my pizza and my eyes turned downward.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Did you get it or not?” I pleaded, but I didn’t know for what.

He didn’t engage.

“Six years.” He shook his head.

“I’d change it if I could,” I said.

“Me too.”

A New Mexico Spring has a wind that makes bodies ache; it swirls out the dead from the ground and they wander around barren fields with cow shit patties from the beginning of creation or the great divide. It’s calming, sometimes, to hear it howling outside of a studio apartment where his checkered vans with drawings on the yellowed parts lie next to the mattress on the floor. Watching the dust collect on his skin and form greasy clumps and kissing tumbleweeds floating on his cracked lips. The harshness of it all becomes bearable. Almost. Until you forget about the layer of your skin that’s rubbed raw from going outside, and you nurse it on his couch. And the way the callous on his thumb forms to the guitar in the corner that hasn’t left its case in months you’ve stopped counting. And the time he used paintbrushes to leave a mark. And then, the tattoo gun.  Comfort collects on his white walls and I can’t remember what water tastes like in the air. You forget that the wind’s not so bad.

“You’ll be back,” he said again. “Everyone always come back.”

We parted at the stoplight. I didn’t kiss him. I didn’t want him to be right again.

I felt the sting of dirt on my bare legs underneath my skirt. I faced the sun. I would miss its dry heat for the last time.

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

This is West – My Unnamed

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This is my voice, my untrammeled and confused trill of noise. I’ve heard that my voice, my noise, the vibration of my vocal chords is a signifier, but I didn’t say that. The signifier is not mine to name and is not part of my language.

My browned fingers bleed sometimes from washing dishes all day; not the rubbing but the constant soak of soap-filled water splits my skin open. Rubber gloves only last so long, and there are dishes at home as well as at work. I take care not to bleed at work; it is not acceptable. At home dark tendrils drift into the rose colored water and a deep pain afflicts me. Perhaps if I had a gift of words I could name this pain, pen it up in a clear plastic container and prod out its secrets. The eight fifty an hour I make washing dishes in the back of a Mexican fast food chain helps sustains my body and my children, but it only helps.

Watch a drop of blood touch the surface of oily water, watch the red pearl blossom into a crimson flower before the thin gossamer threads of my life drift away. And I pause until the flow of my fingers stems. I watch the seeds of my poverty in the sink of my labor and I feel deep things moving beneath the surface. Of course sadness, pain, anger, and other common words come to mind, but using those words to describe what moves within is like watching my son break out into a boiling fever and calling it “not good.”

The tragedy within, of my downtrodden and broken self, is mine.

I do not have a name for it. Instead others speak for me, wage wars of idealism far above my head and use the deep nameless thing within me like a bludgeon. The poor are a weapon in the hands of the educated, swinging my incomprehensible feelings about and cutting at the opposition who they claim created me. The opposition swings back claiming that their detractors would make beggars of us all. In between the poor suffer and the intellectuals talk about the poor like a Darwinian phenomenon.

The poor are not mine either. I am poor, but I am not the poor. I am mine, and the things I suffer are mine also, and the things I cannot name are mine more than anything.

Except I’ve shown my fraudulence. Remove the words: untrammeled, trill, signifier, tendrils, gossamer, and all words like them. Reduce my words to a rudiment of language that barely resembles the words used in tomes to define our existence and that I did not create. Replace them with silent tears, pain, curses, slang, confusion, outburst of senseless bitterness, and a thousand other manifestations. Then look upon me, upon the things I name with gestures and emotion and leave unnamed by words, and say I’ve brought this upon myself.

These things are mine.

(Fiction by Alexander Pappalardo)

This is West – The Playa

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“Thirst, probably.” He reported as if he’d swallowed something too large and it had stuck in his throat. The news had come as a sand-sting to the town; it covered the small wagon-wheel in dusty rumors. I’d come as an outsider with a Corolla and a funny accent.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” He continued.

I didn’t know if it was irony, but I had a suspicion it remained sore for this man. A bleeding puss pocket—ready to burst at the moment he touched bourbon to his lips. Something he held onto and let fester; he picked at it and over time the skin remained damp and soft. As the Deputy Chief of a small border-town that had 17,000 residents he felt a sense of personal responsibility, I imagined. He was a pudgy man with bug eyes that were yellowed and looked like the cracked earth he stood on now. He’d taken me out to the pasture where they’d found her.

“She was headed for the Terry farm I’ll bet,” he said. “Dairy farmers and the like, I imagine looking for a husband or brother.”

“What was her name?” I questioned, scribbling in a notebook as he kicked a tumbleweed out of our walkway.

“Don’t know. Undocumented.”

“She was traveling then?”

“Suppose you could say that. No one knew her.”

 

She didn’t know how hard the wind could make her ache, as if it were peeling layers of her away. Little by little she forgot herself among the dirt. She forgot why she’d come. And how could it have hurt so badly for her to be here now. Water. She needed that, she knew. Dust and sand covered the backs of women that had come before her—a list of names the desert had crossed out. Arizona, she thought. That’s what she could remember. She said it out loud, focusing on the syllables. Why was land so cruel?  It erased the name her mother gave her. She huddled down in the heat, covering her face from the journey. She thought of home.

 

“There’s a playa, just north of here,” the Chief said. “She had maybe two miles.”

I wrote “Dead woman” in the perfectly aligned columns I’d taken from an air-conditioned trailer. I’d been counting bodies for two years and every trip never got any easier. I scribbled “Nameless” in the margins. The Chief climbed into his four-by-four Dodge pickup and cranked up the AC, removing his sweat-rimmed hat and throwing it on the dash. I walked around the truck to the passenger side and noticed a bumper-sticker that read “Pray for Rain” in blue and white lettering.

“The farmers sure could use it.” I hopped in the truck, moving my thumb in a hitch-hiking motion toward the back of the truck. “The rain.” Trying my best to sound local in sympathy.

“Not for the farmers anymore.” He looked ahead and drove over the large holes in the pasture.

I looked at him, puzzled. The wind had picked back up and the sand hit the glass of the truck and made a scraping sound.  We were headed back to town to get a burger and something to wash the afternoon down. He pointed to my notebook in my lap.

“Rain keeps the body-count down.”

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

Call for Submissions (Last Chance!)

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

There’s just a little over 24 hours left until the deadline for this semester’s issue of El Portal, so get them in quick! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally! Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

Be on the lookout for the Spring 2016 issue, which should be releasing next month. In the meantime, check out the Fall 2015 issue, which we’re proud to say includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Call for Submissions

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Turn out’s been great so far, but that doesn’t mean we’re done yet! If you’re interested in submitting a piece for the Fall 2016 issue of El Portal, there’s only five days left! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally! Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

Be on the lookout for the Spring 2016 issue, which should be releasing next month. In the meantime, check out the Fall 2015 issue, which we’re proud to say includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This is West – Skies of Brown, Clouds of Gray

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There was nothing beautiful about a New Mexican spring.

For every flower and warm, sunny afternoon there were six or seven lung-fuls of dust and needle-like torrents of sand blasted at her face at thirty (sometimes forty or, God forbid, even fifty) miles per hour. There was no beauty in a sky painted brown, a moon painted sickly yellow, in stars obscured by not-really-clouds. There was no pleasure in the dust devils flying down her street like phantoms for days on end, carrying stray trash and elm seeds. Spring was a season to be spent inside, more-so even than winter, hiding from the groaning voices hidden in every gust. She had laughed the first time she drove past that sign in-between towns that read “Gusty Winds May Exist.” Now she resented it.

There was something especially infuriating about being trapped inside an empty house by a force as seemingly innocuous as wind. The windows of their old house rattled in their frames and the draft pressed loose doors open like it was welcoming itself in, enjoy your stay, no that’s alright, I’ll take the couch. She was tired of dusting the windowsills. She had been through a three-pack of cheap feather duster replacements in the last month alone. The dirt was invading like a disease, lining the windows and the thresholds, sprinkled across her kitchen floor where in the winter there’d been only the slightest hint of damp and chill.

He returned on the windiest day of the year–the windiest day of her life–scaring her half to death when the screen-door suddenly flew back and banged against the side of the house and he all but tumbled in, bags in hand, hair tousled into the sort of disarray that up until that moment she had only ever associated with sleep and sex. Still in the midst of a fit of stir-craziness her hair was bound to the top of her head carelessly, not even brushed, and the clothes she wore were the sort she felt comfortable putting at the mercy of bleach stains. They stared at one another, momentarily mute. She was a mess. The city was a mess. He was a mess.

He was home.

“Beautiful as ever,” he said, face threatening to split with the size of his grin—with pleasure at how much planning it must have taken for him to arrive in this way, like any other storm, sudden and powerful. But not filthy, like spring. Not infuriating. His arrival was like the gentle whisper of rain she’d been anticipating for days, the thirty-percent chance promise she’d spotted on the weather channel two days ago that’d grown to sixty-five yesterday and ninety today.

She threw the feather duster at him. He looked at her in mock-offense, followed by real offense when they both became aware of the imprint of dust the filthy thing had left on his shirt. She laughed, the screen door rattled like it was trying to escape its frame, and in two quick strides she was in his arms. For a moment she took him in (her summer, at last) and when she opened her eyes, just over his shoulder, she could see the clouds—real, heavy, gray ones—creeping in on the horizon.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

Call for Submissions

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

Did you know El Portal has been published since 1939? Get in on our long publication tradition and submit to the Fall 2016 issue! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally! Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

El Portal also recently released its Fall 2015 issue, which we’re proud to say includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Call for Submissions

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

It’s two weeks until the deadline and El Portal is still accepting submissions for its Fall 2016 issue! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally! Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

El Portal also recently released its Fall 2015 issue, which we’re proud to say includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This is West – Dear Samantha

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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,

Javier

(Fiction and Photography by Alexander Pappalardo)

Call for Submissions

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The deadline’s fast approaching, but El Portal is still accepting submissions for its Fall 2016 issue! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally! Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

El Portal also recently released its Fall 2015 issue, which we’re proud to say includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This is West – Coral and Mesquite

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“It’s not the same,” you remind her gently, still several dozen miles from your destination.

Even though you can’t look at her, you can feel her eyes scanning the horizon, miles upon miles of sun-baked earth and yellow grass, mesquite bushes and cracked asphalt patched once, twice, a thousand times, the sealed lines spreading out with the intricacy of a spider’s web on the highway beneath you. Every so often you’ll pass a herd of cattle grazing on the land or a band of horses given the freedom to run, but there’s no one here and you find yourself thinking that’s the way it’s always been.

“I can tell,” she says. You aren’t certain if she really can, though. You love her. You love her more than anything, but this is something she might not ever understand and so you can’t help feeling like there’s something missing. Like there’s a gap between you that you can never cross.

“I’m just scared it’ll disappoint you,” you admit.

You aren’t a proud Southerner in the most formal sense—you’ve never fired a gun (never even touched one) and none of the men in your family wear cowboy hats—but you’ve always had a connection to the land and the beautiful seclusion of it all. When you told your mother you didn’t mind long drives she laughed at you, but you could tell she felt it too, if only just. She knew what it was like to be out there in the middle of nowhere, the voice on the radio fizzling out as you crossed invisible county lines, only to be replaced by another, almost indistinguishable from the last, in time.

“It’s a lot of nothing,” she says. Your shoulders tense, but you give her a moment because this is what she does. She frightens you—always has—since that first fluttering two years ago when she smiled and all the world seemed to condense to two rows of white teeth and a pair of coral-colored lips. “You always said you hated it.”

This you can’t refute. When you met you were a fugitive running wild in the wide world you were never given a chance to see. You resented that all your life; you seethed green with envy when your friends, your extended family, even strangers publicized their vacations in California, Mexico, New York, and beyond. For almost two decades you felt like your life was tethered to the dust in your lungs.

But in the end when your running was done—when you found yourself standing among buildings a thousand miles from home, spires dizzyingly tall—you realized you were short of breath and suddenly it felt as though all that once-glorious concrete and steel was collapsing upon you. She found you there, on your knees in the shade of a building tall enough to block the midday sun, and she promised one day soon you could go back, together.

“I can learn to love it,” she says, making a point to squeeze your hand where it rests on the console between you. She loves you. She loves you more than anything and so you believe her because, in a way, you had to learn, too.

(Flash Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

This is West – Down Range

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“I’m suffocating in all of this openness,” he said over a pecan beer and our favorite sugary sunrise.

“Jerry, stop it. There’s plenty of room to breathe here.” We’d spent most of our savings on the move. On the truck we hadn’t needed in the city. On some specific sort of peace of mind. Quiet.

There wasn’t a drop of space after he left. The walls began to close-in. I could feel myself trying to remember what breath tasted like. Cold steel mixed with lemon. The kind of claustrophobic that makes you answer certain questions. That you can’t hide from anymore. He’d always wanted to go, I imagine. I can’t remember if I wanted him to stay, really, in the end. But comfort, like space, like openness, has a way of lingering in the bones. Attaching to tendons and becoming a part of you.

I met him on a Wednesday. An ordinary, hopeful day. The kind that leaves flurries of syrup fire in the belly—sticky, heavy, hot. He had shrapnel-flaked green eyes that had seen much more of death than I cared to peer into. He wore combat boots under his leather thong sandals as if he had never quite gotten used to the weight of where they had been. And now he was here. Ordering green-chili on a cheeseburger and tasting sand-grit when he bit into it. Asking through his grease-dotted napkin always more to himself than me, “What makes an enemy? How do you know there’s an enemy?”

You can ask these things in this much space. It has time to mold to the dirt and stay for awhile. The answer doesn’t really ever come here. It floats, settles mid-air, and follows the horizon, tracing the land that doesn’t belong to him. That never belonged to us. Framing the little world we tried to build. Instead: Babylon.

He would take the Wrangler out to the pasture and sit with the dead-end line, tracing its sunflower silence with clean fingernails and an academy ring, trying to pinpoint the last time he loved anything alive. He found nothing but open space.

I found him a day later. Hanging from the indifference of the land.

I waited to sell the sunset. The chicken-wire garden and two inherited tractor tires of potted plants. The front-porch swing that was painted a barn-yard red still facing the cactus pond we’d put in two summers ago.

“I want it to face the mornings,” he’d said.

I needed to sit with it all. Let it dry out like a skinned deer hide hanging over our clothesline. Dripping into something I could digest later.

This kind of space never alleviates. Never revives. It only contains. Multiplies. Stagnates.

“I can see to the ends of the Earth and back into myself,” he’d said.

I drove down our caliche road throwing cream puffs from the back tires. I played chicken with the sunset.  Pulsating through the open day, breaking into night. Thick, desert night like ticking clocks.

I asked why, only once, right before the thread-bare mountain range.

You can ask these sorts of questions in this much space.

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

Call for Submissions

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Llano Estacado, Caprock Image byLeaflet (CC BY-SA 3.0). Found on Wikimedia Commons.

El Portal is still accepting submissions for its Fall 2016 issue! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally! Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

El Portal also recently released its Fall 2015 issue, which we’re proud to say includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.