This is West – Stubborn Old Man

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“You like coffee?” Catherine asked Curtis as he placed her medication on the kitchen counter.

The kettle on the stove-top steamed.

“Yes, with cream and sugar,” Curtis said, moving to the dining room table.

Catherine frowned and heaped spoonfuls of beans into the grinder.

“Abigail, please tell me you still drink your coffee like a real American,” Catherine said.

“Black is fine, Grandma,” Abigail said, walking over to the photos framed on the wall. She stopped in front of the one showing Grandpa Allen carving a pumpkin. “Grandpa always went all out for his pumpkins.”

Catherine took a French press out of the cabinet and set it on the table. “He liked to put on a show for you girls.”

“My high school would do a pumpkin carving contest every year,” Curtis said, “when I was-”

GRRRRR-OOOM! Catherine ground the beans.

“Tell me about the new job, Abigail,” Catherine said as soon as the grinding stopped. She dumped the grounds into the French press.

“Oh, it’s the best,” Abigail said and took a seat next to Curtis. “Even though I’m only junior staff I’ve already been assigned to some big cases.”

“You earned it, sweetheart,” Curtis said.

“Of course she earned it,” Catherine said, pouring the steaming kettle over the grounds. “My granddaughter works too hard to not be recognized. You should try it sometime, Curtis.”

“Oh, stop, Grandma,” Abigail said. “Curtis’s shop is doing well right now.”

“Well for a toy shop anyway,” Catherine said and set out four coffee cups on the table.

“It’s a game shop, actually. Not toys,” Curtis said. “Mostly role-playing games.”

“Mmhmm,” Catherine said and lit a cigarette. “I’m sure you’ll make a fortune selling those to school children for their lunch money.”

“They’re not just for children, they’re-” Abigail patted Curtis’s hand and shook her head.

Catherine plunged the French press and filled the cups on the table. She passed each to Abigail and Curtis, no cream or sugar, and set one out for herself and another at the empty seat at the table.

“Is someone else coming?” Curtis asked.

“No,” Catherine said. “Who else besides my sweet Abigail would come out all this way to visit an old lady?”

The kitchen lights flickered.

“The lights are still doing that?” Abigail said. “I thought you had a repair man out here?”

“Those con artists?” Catherine scoffed. “They don’t know how an old house like this works. If it’s not a cookie cutter model home, they don’t know how to fix a thing.”

“Maybe Curtis could take a look,” Abigail said.

“Please,” Catherine said, tapping her ash into the overstuffed tray on the table. “I doubt there’s an electrical engineering game to teach him how.”

Curtis hid his expression behind his coffee mug.

“Grandma,” Abigail said, dumping the ashtray’s contents into the trash. “Maybe it’s time to consider moving someplace where they can take care of you.”

Catherine took a heavy drag. “You mean a nursing home? No, I’m staying in my house.”

“But, Grandma, what if you fall again?”

“I won’t fall,” Catherine said.

“Grandma-”

“I won’t fall,” she said and turned her back to Abigail.

Abigail looked to Curtis for support. He shrugged and sipped more coffee.

Abigail turned back to Catherine, but before she could say anything, her phone rang.

“Its work,” she said and left the dining room.

Catherine faced Curtis, still taking heavy drags from her cigarette.

“So, Catherine,” Curtis said. “How’s your-”

“I want you to get Abigail to drop the nursing home talk,” Catherine said and snubbed out her cigarette.

“Um, that’s not really any of my business,” Curtis said.

The lights flickered again. When they returned to normal he noticed the extra coffee cup was empty.

“Uh, that cup just . . .” He checked under the table for a spill. It was clean. “Where did the coffee go?”

“Allen drank it,” Catherine said and refilled his cup.

“Allen isn’t here, Catherine,” Curtis said, cautiously.

“He’s always here. He won’t leave,” Catherine said and lit another cigarette.

“Allen is dead,” Curtis said. “You know that.”

“Of course he’s dead. And he still won’t leave, the stubborn old man.”

Curtis peeked out of the dining room. Abigail seemed to be engaged in something important. He looked back and Allen’s coffee mug was empty again.

“Catherine, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here.”

“I’m not pulling anything,” she said and offered Curtis a smoke. He declined. “Allen won’t leave and he doesn’t like to be alone. So I’m not going to a nursing home.”

Curtis tapped his finger on his mug. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe you should think about-”

The lights flickered. The cabinet doors swung open and slammed wildly. Allen’s coffee mug whizzed right past Curtis’s head and smashed into the wall behind him.

Abigail rushed into the room. Catherine closed the cabinet doors while finishing her smoke. Curtis was on the floor picking up shards of mug.

“What just happened?” Abigail asked, wide-eyed.

“Nothing. A gust of wind.” Catherine said.

“That was no gust of-”

“Sweetheart,” Curtis interrupted. “I was thinking we should visit more often to help Catherine out around the house.”

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

This is West – Guest Writer Steve Bellin-Oka

Still Life with the Plague of Darkness
            — for my daughter

I woke this morning before dawn
to find the nation’s hearts had hardened.
Something stretched out its hand—a darkness
so thick it felt like gauze.
It seemed it would last for days.
Even the pavement cracks were wider:
more thick weeds forcing up
through the ridged concrete.
Overnight, someone stepped on them
and now we think our backs are broken.

But they’re not—I think of you
in another time zone, just turned thirteen,
the same sun rising from the far end
of the city. We’d wanted a land
less dangerous for you. To find
our questions answered. To wipe layers
away from the cocoon you struggle
to break free of. Forgive us.

But the November branches define
themselves against the slow sunrise.
Brown and red leaves still cling to them.
Inside the house now, I’ve pulled
the curtains back. Already so much
light pours in—nothing can keep it out.


An assistant professor of English at ENMU, Steve Bellin-Oka is the author of two chapbooks, The Frankenstein Poems (2014) and Dead Letter Office at North Atlantic Station (forthcoming in 2017). His work has appeared in Cream City Review, Mississippi Review, William and Mary Review and Yalobusha Review, among other journals, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Hambidge Center for the Arts, and was recently shortlisted for the Key West Literary Seminar’s Scotti Merrill Memorial Award. He is currently finishing his first full-length book of poems.

Fall 2016 Launch Party

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For our local readers, El Portal is very pleased to announce its Fall 2016 launch party will be happening at 4pm on Wednesday, November 9th in the Jack Williamson Liberal Arts Center lobby here at Eastern New Mexico University. Join us for a reading of student work and a presentation of student photography while helping us honor our student contributors and the Fall 2016 prize winners! It’s sure to be a great time.

Call for Submissions

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It’s time! Today’s the submission deadline for the Spring 2017 issue of El Portal, so make sure you get your potential publications sent to us by midnight. The next submission period won’t begin until January, so this is your last chance for awhile! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally. Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline 11:59pm, October 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

Additionally, we recently released our Fall 2016 issue, which we’re proud to say is our best yet and includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issues 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 – Fortunes

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“You gotta be shitting me,” Gulliver said for maybe the third time since striking up a conversation with the Asian guy whose car broke down along the freeway near the store. “You traveled all this way, halfway around the world, just because of some fortune teller? That’s one of the craziest damn things I ever heard.”

Edmond couldn’t help but overhear the conversation, or at least Gulliver’s half of it, while restocking the beef jerky on the opposite side of the shop. Fortune teller vaguely registered through Edmond’s zombie-like state, but over the years Edmond had come to tune out most of things Gulliver lauded over with the customers.

The Asian guy laughed and said something Edmond couldn’t make out, but he could tell the guy had an accent.

Edmond checked his watch. Only forty-two more minutes before he could go home and binge on some National Geographic.

“So what kind of treasure are you expecting to find out here?” Gulliver asked the man.

Fortune teller. Treasure. Edmond stopped hanging the jerky packages and listened.

“I don’t know for sure. Gold and jewels, maybe,” the man said. “But she also said I’d find treasures worth far more than anything I could imagine.”

Edmond jutted up from the aisle to face the foreign traveler. Mid-twenties, wearing a polo and khakis, grinning like he just got off an amusement park ride.

“And you believed that?” Gulliver gawked. “Sorry, buddy, but it sounds like a scam to me.”

“Maybe.” The traveler shrugged. “However, I paid the fortune teller nothing. She told where to find the treasure in exchange for ten percent of what I find. Why would she do that?”

Edmond glided out the jerky aisle, intently watching the two men chat at the counter.

“Well, you got me there.” Gulliver said. “But not everybody would just up and leave like you did.”

The traveler’s grin faltered momentarily. “Well, it wasn’t as easy as that,” he said.

Gulliver pointed out the front windows to a tow truck coming down the freeway. “Buddy, you’re ride is here.”

“Wonderful,” the traveler said. “Hopefully it won’t cost a fortune to get that thing fixed, cuz I haven’t found mine yet.”

The two men laughed. Edmond stared wide-eyed at them from the slushie machine. The traveler thanked Gulliver for the phone call and the company, then moved for the door.

“Hey,” Edmond called out. The man stopped and turned around.

“Where are you from?” Edmond asked as he walked towards him.

“Japan.”

“From Shinshiro?” Edmond said.

“I-yeah.” The traveler cocked his head at Edmond. “How did you know?”

Edmond stopped directly in front of the man, next to the sunglasses kiosk. Their reflections bounced back at them from the dozens of lenses.

“I saw a fortune teller once. She told me that if I traveled to Nagashino Castle in Shinshiro I would find a great treasure.”

“Oh,” the man nodded. “But you didn’t go.”

“No. I didn’t.”

The tow trucks horn honked.

The man looked Edmond in the eyes, then left the store.

“Holy Hell, Edmond,” Gulliver said. “What was that about?”

Edmond watched the traveler hop into the tow truck and vanish down the freeway.

“Gulliver,” Edmond said. “I quit.”

(Fiction by Wesley Martin)

El Portal – Fall 2016

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

Full List of Contributors:

An Interview with Joseph Somoza

Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie “Certain Things Are Likely”

Gaylord Brewer “The Art of the Blackout”

Gaylord Brewer “Living Crèche”

Mary Murphy “The Last Guardian”

Nicole Ferraro “Burn Holes in My Favorite Sweater”

Tom Sheehan “Charlemagne Killabrew, Civil War Veteran”

Laura Coe Moore “The Hand

Jack Buck “Back in 2003 When Watching Four TV Shows in a Row Was Considered an Insane Amount of TV Watching by an Individual”

J. Tarwood “The Getaway”

Katelyn Ross “The Nothing You Left Behind”

Iris Esquivel “A Scream! Somewhere in the Nebula”

Robert Joe Stout “What Are They Saying?”

David White “Boots”

David White “Train Station”

Don Mitchell “Grulla I”

Kaitlyn Roberts “Arches National Park”

Kaitlyn Roberts “Into the Abyss”

Michaela Browder “Untitled”

Haley Madden “The Astronaut’s Rainbow”

Aaron Pappalardo “There is a Machine”

Carol Oberg “Dusting Life”

Glen Sorestad “We Are All Refugees”

Glen Sorestad “Please, Tyler, Please!”

Julia Simmons “Eyes Open”

D. Shawn Hunton “The Town and the City”

Dane Cobain “Don’t Forget the Lemmies”

Lonnie Berry “The Cost of a Mule”

Marc Cioffi “Another Poem of the American Road: A Song Against Forgetting”

Jay Frankston “The Logger”

Enzo Scavone “Someone I Know”

Emmy McCray “Substitutes in the Case of Necessity”

Emmy McCray “First Aid”

Wesley Martin “Grubber Ludwig”

This is West – No Tresspassers

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Cattle dotted the area like ink stains, the setting sun washing the desert landscape in the piercing glow of its final rays. The further Ian traveled onto the old man’s private property, the more reluctant he became. If he got caught it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The owner would probably just ask him to leave—maybe wave a shotgun around—and Ian would do so, gladly and without complaint. But getting caught meant never knowing for certain. And having already experienced what that uncertainty felt like for the better part of a month, he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue.

He passed a low rise in the land and a building came into view, painted black with shadow against the blazing orange horizon. His palms suddenly felt uncomfortably damp where they were wrapped around the steering wheel. His stomach rolled with a sudden wave of nausea. As he drew closer, its features grew more distinct and were eventually illuminated by the headlights of his truck. A low wooden fence roped off the area immediately next to the shack, a chicken coop built inside but long forgotten. The busted bulb secured above the door dimly reflected the dying light and a fresh black and orange ‘No Trespassing’ sign shone like a beacon from beneath it.

“Dammit.”

Ian pulled over, turned off the engine, and climbed out of the truck, greeted immediately by the scent of ozone and the light, chilly breeze the passing storm had left behind. He shut the door.

Approaching the shack felt akin to approaching a wild animal, haunches raised, teeth bared. The once-white walls were now weathered and peeling, its scaly exterior offset by the ancient plywood nailed over its windows. Choosing to forego trying the clearly locked door—a brand new one, looped through a fresh latch—he instead circled the area, finding nothing but a few more boarded windows and a fat, brown tarantula resting on a pile of rocks. There was no way to get inside. Not anymore.

Why choose here of all places? Ian paused once he’d completed his loop and touched the cold aluminum sign nailed to the door. There were thousands of other places John could have chosen. What was so special about an abandoned shack in the middle of a stranger’s ranch? Ian futilely tugged at the lock. It wouldn’t budge. He knocked a large fleck of ancient paint away in frustration, desperate to leave some sort of mark. He made another circuit around the perimeter.

In the back, a slender crack between the plywood and the glass-less window offered a cumbersome opportunity to glimpse inside, and Ian pressed his forehead against the ancient wood, closing one eye. Nothing much lay inside: only a small, dark, empty room with concrete floor, dusty and forgotten. Above, he knew, there were rafters. But nothing hung from them anymore. Surely not. He stepped back and breathed.

Against the dying light of the sun, the tarantula scuttled away.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

This is West – Lawrence of New Mexico

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In 1855, the US Army created the United States Camel Corps in hopes the foreign animals would serve the country’s expansion westward. By 1863, the project disbanded and the camels were released into the wild of the American Southwest.


Lawrence, of New England, peddled his bicycle across the empty desert road. Patches of fine red dirt swirled across the pavement, occasionally being sliced by the bike’s tires. In the east, behind him, a storm brewed. But where he rode now was as hot and dry as ever. He’d have been more thankful for the breeze if it wasn’t for the dirt pelting against his skin.

Why am I here? Lawrence thought for the thousandth time since departing on his biking tour, his supposed vacation. I don’t belong here. Biking in the desert was so different from biking in the forested hills back home. His body was performing the exact same motions, but his mind refused the peace that normally came with the peddling.

He’d too hastily accepted the new job out here in New Mexico. Months had passed without him ever really fitting in at work, or really making any friends. His new residence just wasn’t home. So he decided to do a three-day biking trip, an activity he had loved back north, but it just wasn’t the same in the desert.

Just keep pedaling, he told himself. Truthfully, he felt more like stopping and turning around. But he was already out here. Going back would be pointless. Just keep pedal- Oh, forget it.

He halted the bike and rehydrated. As he drank from his water bottle, he spotted a blur in the distance off the road. He shielded his eyes from the sun. The blur was a reddish brown and took on a horse-like shape as it drew closer, only it was larger than a horse and didn’t move like a horse.

Lawrence’s adrenaline spiked, realizing he was out here alone and defenseless. I don’t belong here. He readied the bike to speed off, but his curiosity demanded he stay. Steadily, the reddish brown beast drew closer revealing it had long spindly legs, a curved neck, and bushy mane around its collar. A hump protruded from its back.

Lawrence blinked in amazement as the camel continued its trot across the desert towards this lone isolated part of the bike route. Where did you come from? Why are you out here alone?

The camel stared back at him with glassy eyes, as if wondering the same thing about Lawrence. He and the camel maintained eye contact as its thick black hooves clacked onto the pavement, just ten feet in front of Lawrence.

How had this exotic creature come to be so far from where it belonged? Yet, the camel didn’t seem to question its location. It was here, therefore it belonged here.

The camel crossed the road and pressed onward through the desert. Lawrence watched the majestic mysterious animal hoof off into the distance until it was once again a blur on the horizon. After a moment, he resumed pedaling westward.

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

This is West – Sediment

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Fajada Butte (G.B. Cornucopia (National Park Service, United States – Chaco Canyon National Historical Park: Weather)

The details of the land are
boundless, rugged
Layers that shimmer, hide.
They call out to the depths
beneath and above
Creating beauty out of fire,
snow.
They crisscross forming
layers of sediment, evoking
caverns, mountain, streams
Adding to the story of the
land, the people.
Yet still hiding secrets
beneath the shimmering
sediment
Waiting for the surface to
frazzle
Waiting for their time to
shimmer in the sun again.

(Poetry by Fawn Hon)

This is West – A Withered Reflection

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“Marks of the Wind in a Puddle” by Malene Thyseen, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

The lingering heat ruined the rain. There was no torrential downpour sweeping in on a cool wind. It didn’t cleave the sunbaked summer in two. It didn’t arrive with low, auspicious thunder and purple bolts of lightning. Instead, it fell in unsatisfying specks for days, exacerbating the already oppressive humidity, clogging every throat and drawing the sweat from every pore. It rushed down the street in brown torrents, pooling in the lowest intersections, and helped tires to grind asphalt into fresh potholes. The weeds had already begun to triple and the sodden, sucking earth didn’t yet allow for mowers to grind them back into stumps.

He woke up each morning with the sheets clinging to his body and showered only to sweat again within the hour. He suddenly favored juice over coffee, welcoming the cool slide of citrus down his throat each morning as the briefest possible reprieve. He dressed in shorts every day, but even that wasn’t enough to keep the sweat out from behind his knees, from beneath his arms, from sliding down the nape of his neck. His front door was sticking, suddenly, in a way it hadn’t before, bloated by warmth in its frame and he sighed when he realized the particularly large, ugly orb weaver that’d made its web between his porch light and the awning hadn’t yet been knocked away by the stuttering downpour.

He felt like he hadn’t been able to breathe in weeks.

The house on 14th Street, the house that wasn’t his own, seemed to have taken the weather to heart. The trim running beneath the gutter looked more chipped than ever; he’d been meaning to repaint it for the last four years. He would mow the grass just as soon as the lawn dried out, but for now the Yellow Mustard was slowly creeping ever-higher, halfway to his knees and sure to be taller when he showed up again tomorrow. Rain’s phantom speckled the sidewalk and his skin in tandem.

A withered reflection behind the door groaned when he stepped inside, shifting in the old brown armchair with the worn-down and fraying arms, looking older than it had just hours ago. His father had recently begun to sleep there, when walking to his bed had become too grand an effort. The carpet beneath his father’s feet was stained with every substance imaginable. For half a decade it’d increasingly become the solitary site of his life’s every moment, spent wiled away in front of an ancient television sat atop a rickety end-table drawn close to account for failing eyes. The numbers on the controller had worn away completely months ago.

He took a seat on the sunken sofa, next to a toppling stack of old newspapers, and sucked in a lungful of dust. A piece of him wondered if he’d begun to visit too often. “You alright?”

His father grunted, pulled in a labored breath. “Been better.”

(Fiction by Kayleen Burdine)

This is West – 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)

This is West – 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)