This Is West – Wildflower Ranch

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Dried rhubarb hangs from a small golden chain over a kitchen sink where his grandmother used to bathe him. “She thinks it keeps spirits away.” He says as he dips his grease-stained mechanic hands into soapy unfiltered water. He’s lived in this brown place all of his life. His grandfather helped lay the brick that keeps him enclosed–a long tradition of men that have worked fields surrounding the outskirts of a small wagon wheel town. It’s an old kitchen. There isn’t a dishwasher and the stove only ignites with a match. He flips tortillas over the metal swirl, he doesn’t use anything but his hands. Steady, large hands that make him look and feel much older than he is. They don’t match the rest of him. Tall and lanky, with unsure legs that move him back and forth from folding laundry and stirring a pot of beans. They move quickly but without purpose.

I sit with him and fold dish towels. Listening to him speak about Cisneros and Cardenas. His sandpaper eyes meet mine and he blushes underneath a mouthful of revolution. He folds a tortilla in half and scoops a heap of beans onto a chipped red plate. “The only thing she’ll eat now.”

I met him in a field of dying wildflowers. Dirt-covered stalks surrounded his feet and kept him planted to this place. He doesn’t move them to bend his back slightly and kiss me underneath a scorching wide sky. It burns everything beneath it.

“There used to be a river there.” He points to a far-off section of the land that his grandmother’s kitchen still belongs to. I didn’t believe him. But he smiled into the sun anyway. He walks back to the barn garage next to the empty wooden stable and dehydrated metal troughs, avoiding any place where a dried flower rests on the cracked dirt, as if he thinks that someday they’ll all grow back.

And on days like today, for his sake, I hope they do.

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

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This Is West — The Exchange

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Ours is a town of little oddities but this is by far the most perplexing event of my entire life. Because there, amidst the dead grass and dust I call my backyard, an unexplained can of meatless, dollar store chili is tumbling from one end of the fence to the next like it thinks it belongs there. The wind’s been strong the last couple of days, but not nearly strong enough to vault a can over a six foot fence. There aren’t any gaps, either, so it isn’t like an animal could’ve carried it in. And who in their right mind would just toss their garbage into a stranger’s yard? No, all logic is telling me that someone has been eating their vegetarian chili on my property and I feel attacked.

It bears the worst of my simmering frustration for almost three weeks before I go and pick it up, the sun-baked reddish-brown residue inside crumbling from the edges of the razor-sharp lid clinging to the can by one metallic thread. I hold it in my hands and I am overcome. Three weeks I’ve suffered, periodically agonized over its existence. I’m ready to be free. I toss it into my neighbor’s yard and forget it ever existed.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

Welcome Back!

Spring 2015

School is back in session at Eastern New Mexico University and the Fall 2015 issue is well underway, which means El Portal is now accepting submissions for its Spring 2016 edition. Prose, poetry, flash fiction, photography, and art are welcome internationally! Deadline October 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

El Portal is also seeking submissions for its Monthly Web Feature! On the final Wednesday of each month from September through April, we will be showcasing a piece of prose, poetry, photography, or art right here on our blog. If you would like to submit a piece for consideration, please contact us at el.portal@enmu.edu with the subject line “Web Feature Submission.”

For Web Feature Terms of Submission and Guidelines: Click Here

To read some of our previous web features: Click Here

An Interview with El Portal’s Incoming Editor: Kayleen Burdine [by Alexandra Itzi]

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A native of Carlsbad, New Mexico, Kayleen Burdine will be assuming editorship of El Portal in August 2015. After graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in English from Eastern New Mexico University this May, she will be entering the Graduate Program in English at ENMU in the fall semester of 2015. Although Burdine will be hard at work as El Portal’s editor, she will hopefully still have time for some of her favorite activities which include playing video games, reading, and writing fantasy and general fiction. She enjoys reading young adult and fantasy literature and her favorite novel is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

El Portal will be in capable hands—Kayleen is an excellent reader with a critical eye for quality writing. She is familiar with the aesthetic and workings of the journal, as she has served as Assistant Editor since August of 2014. Burdine says that she first became aware of the journal when one of her professors handed her a copy and encouraged her to submit her own writing. In fact, her submission entitled “Uncomfortable Truths” took first place in El Portal’s short story contest in the Spring of 2014.

Burdine’s interest in the journal transformed her from contributor to staff member. Regarding her experiences working for El Portal, she says: “I really enjoyed my work as assistant editor, and I’ve always wanted to have a career in editing. Being editor of the journal is a great way to gain experience in my field and it also just sounds really exciting to take charge of something and hopefully improve it in a way that’ll be beneficial to future contributors and staff members.”

El Portal will not see any drastic changes in the coming year. Instead, Burdine will focus her attention on improving the infrastructure which is already in place. While El Portal will continue to encourage submissions from the national and international writing community, Burdine wants to draw attention inward as well. She says that “the number of submissions El Portal receives nationally and internationally is wonderful and I always encourage more, but comparatively very few are from our own student body. I’d love to see what sort of material a larger pool of student submissions would bring to the journal.”

Burdine’s drive and passion for editing—which she hopes to make into a career after graduation—coupled with her professionalism and willingness to work hard promise an exciting future for El Portal. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating her achievements with the journal.

Kayleen Burdine can be reached at: Kayleen.Burdine@enmu.edu

Last Day for El Portal Submissions!

Today is the last day for submissions to El Portal‘s fall issue. Write West and send it our way! We will accept submissions until 11:59:59 p.m. If you have something you want to submit, send it to the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu. Please visit our official Guidelines  and Terms of Submission pages for official rules. Questions concerning El Portal submissions should be sent to the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

El Portal Seeking Submissions for Fall 2015 Issue

El Portal is currently seeking submissions for its Fall 2015 issue. The deadline for Fall 2015 submissions is 31 March 2015. If you have any questions about submitting to El Portal, please feel free to drop us a line at el.portal@enmu.edu. For submission guidelines and official rules, please visit our official Guidelines and Terms of Submission pages for more information. Also, be sure to check out this month’s web feature by Jenni Baros.

The Well by Jenni Baros (Web Feature)

“Well’s dry again,” Travis says. He kicks the front door shut against the gnawing cold. His arms are full of damp pinon for the fire. The tang of manure and fresh hay follows him in.

“It’s winter,” I say. My fingers are numb from chasing dishes around in a sink full of suds. I’ve been waiting for him to ask about my day. But both our hands are busy with chores, and he won’t stop till they’re done.

“Checked the cisterns. They’re about half-way.”

“We’ll have to watch it.” I am guilty with the water in the basin. Laundry’s waiting by the washer and we’ll need to shower tomorrow. Seems there’s always more need than have.

As he kneels at the hearth, his knees creak and pop with the weight of years spent scraping at this dirt, fighting it. Wood chuffs against the rough cotton of his mud brown Carhartt. There is meticulousness in his stacking log upon log; he might have been an engineer. Instead, we’re just two washed up rodeo-ers, pretending we aren’t failing at being farmers, too.

The phone rings. He keeps his back to it, crouched away like a beat pup. There’s nothing new to say to the bank. I dry my hands on the back of my jeans before answering.

“Hi, Lisa.” I say her name so he knows it’s not for him. I should have let it go to voicemail. She chatters on about a Tanya’s baby shower and I set the last plates to dry. Travis finishes stacking the wood and heads out to the barn to shut the cows in for the night.

 ***

Just before we got married, he took me to Santa Fe. He needed a qualifying ride and I was just happy to be with him. We stayed the night on the square for Zozobra. The effigy of Old Man Winter, paled-faced and leering, was rising ten feet out of a pyre. The people all around us danced to the mariachi, their arms lifted in the air as they burned away the old and welcomed in the new. When he was lighted, the fire was so hot I had to turn away. Travis held onto me and whispered that he loved me. Right then, I had everything I ever wanted.

 ***

We go to bed early because there is nothing else to do. I put a thick log on the fire and turn out lights. He eases weary onto the mattress and I think this is the moment for me to tell him the truth. But I look at his sun-lined face and see his eyes hollow. The words lose their shape in my mouth. I reach my hand out, touch the sinew in his arms. I must be ice against his skin because he flinches. I pull away.

“Love you,” I say.

“G’night,” he answers, rolling to face the closet. His breath comes in familiar rhythms and I turn away, too. Cold air slipping under the covers between us.

 ***

We’d been married two years when I ended up the in ICU for rolling my trailer outside of Gunnison. My horse didn’t make it. Travis dropped out of the rodeo the rest of the year just to sit and read Jane Austen out loud. The following year, a bull caught Travis in the chest and I finished her collected works waiting out his surgeries. We both hate her to this day.

 ***

I stand outside the closest Wal-Mart, a forty-five minute drive from the house. As I walk to the automatic doors, the wind drags my hair through the gloss on my lips then covers them with a gritty layer of dust. Empty convenience store cups roll swirling dances around smaller tumbleweeds against the cinderblock walls. A fast food wrapper skips by, hurried along with intermittent gusts. The smell of cow shit lays a hazy veneer over everything, even my teeth when I open my mouth. I am only here for water.

An hour later, teal nail polish beeps across the scanner and the cashier says, “You take the day off?” I don’t recognize her at first. But under the lavender hair and watery, red eyes, I see the Mallory I knew years ago; back when we all thought we’d get the heck out of this town. Can’t go to Wal-Mart without seeing someone you know.

“Kinda.” I brush bangs from my forehead, aware of the few grey strands I found last week, almost white against my tawny brown.

Beep for a jug of water. “How’s Dixie,” she asks.

“Oh,” I say. My insides have been doused in ice water. Beep for matches. “She’s gone.”

“That’s sad.” Beep for chili beans. “Y’all were a good team. Hard to find a roper like her.” Beep for canned soup.

I wave a flippant hand. The hurt is an August fly, fat and lazy. “She deserved better.”

Mallory nods. “$15.62,” she says. “You keep her tack?”

I swipe my card. “No.” My throat catches. I’ve tried not to think about the hand-tooled saddle, mine and Travis’ initials interwoven with sunflowers in the leather; capped with an authentic Mexican silver saddle horn. The one my Daddy gave me as a wedding present. “We sold it.”

“Too bad.” She doesn’t care. “Enjoy your day.”

“You, too.” I hoist the water into the cart, the plastic bag flimsy in my grip. I hate coming in to town.

 ***

My soup is cold.

Travis was already gone when I got home. I didn’t bother with his cell, mostly because I don’t know what to say to him. I dip my spoon into the bowl but can’t bring it to my mouth. Tires on the gravel drive have me bracing for the rush of cold air when he opens the door. “What’re you doing home?”

“Sit down,” I say, pushing the bowl aside.

He tugs his sweat-stained ball cap off, walks to the sink. The facet sputters when he tries to fill a glass. “Damn it.”

“There’s a jug in the fridge.”

He brings the empty glass to the table and sits across from me. He looks at the floor. “Bank’s coming this afternoon. They’re taking the tractor.” Titling the glass, he looks through it. “And the livestock.”

My throat is squeezing in on itself. I can’t swallow. “I got fired yesterday.”

He looks up, green eyes bright against the red of his brows. I doubt he expected a pissing contest. Trouble is, we’re both downwind, facing the wrong way.

“Gibbs said I took too much personal time. Didn’t care that it was for the doctors.”

“Well,” Travis tries to make the best of it, “Gibbs is an asshole.”

“Dr. Cross finally just said it,” I say; I can’t wait any more for him to ask. “I can’t keep a baby. There’s just too much scarring.”

That’s the one. He winches, the same crumple I saw when the bull’s horn got under his chest plate. It’s the kind of hurt that ruins a life. He studies the table between us; deep breath. “It is what it is,” he says. The ball cap is back on his head and he shuffles for the door.

“Where you going?”
“Water the stock.” His glass is on the table as he opens the door. The winter scuttles in, brushing my skin into cold fury.

He’s back around time for dinner. I don’t know what he’s been doing out there, the cows gone to auction and the tractor back to the bank. But he comes up behind me while I’m setting out bowls and folds his arms around me. His hands are cold through my sleeves. “I love you, Ruth,” he says. “That won’t change now.” Then he’s gone to wash up. At dinner, he is quiet and I just sit there, running the cornbread through my chili, trying to swallow without water.

When we’re in bed, I reach for him and he is accommodating. It’s the only thing we know. I lay on his chest tracing the scar where the bull gored him. “Why’d you marry me?”

“You had a roper’s ass.”

“Seriously.”

“You don’t quit.” He has that half smile, an echo of the one that knocked the breath out of me every time I sat in the stands, watching him in the arena. “Even when you were outside the time: you’d still tie ‘em up, like you didn’t hear the whistle.” He laughs. “Then you’d throw your hands up in the air and wave like you were the damn rodeo queen.” His lips are soft on my forehead.

“You had a bullrider’s ass.”

He laughs again. I remember this, remember me. I could stay here, warm and drowsy, as long as the heat holds. Then he says it quiet, like he doesn’t want to wake from this. “We would ’a made great babies.”

I choke. “I’m sorry, Travis.”

“Me, too.” He sighs. “Shit happens, you know?”
I feel the warmth draining from my body and I start to shake. “I can’t do this.”

“Come on, Ruth.” He pulls his arm from under me. The thunderstorm he’s been hanging onto breaks, but I’m the ground too dry to soak it in. “What more do you want? I’ve got nothing.” His eyes are full and he is fighting to keep his voice from shaking. “You want me to say sorry that we had to sell your saddle to pay the doctor bills? ‘Cause I am. More than you know. And I’m real sorry you’re stuck on this piece of shit dirt with a man who can’t do squat to make a life.” He is standing now, yanking pants off the floor, belt buckle ringing as he pulls them on.

“Travis,” I say. “This isn’t how we wanted it.”

“I’m thirsty.” And he walks out, like it’s as easy as that.

 ***

The sun’s coming up; but the chill is worse in this moment than it has been all night. Travis will be up soon, no matter what the day will bring. He’ll find my note propped against the coffee pot. I sincerely hope he reads it, so he knows that this life, and not him, has taken too much of me already. The canvas duffel I used when I was on the rodeo circuit, is packed with only the essentials and half our savings. It’s in the back seat of my dirt-road crusted Focus, the only things I own outright.

I smell like gasoline. The ground in front of me is wet with what I could find in the barn. I crouch close to the packed dirt. It is a small thing to light a match. It is an even smaller thing to let it go.

The tiny pyre of twigs in front of me catches. On top perches a corn husk doll, the one I made when we first started trying. It isn’t long before a prickly spire of flame finds the gas. With a rush of heat, the fire chases the line of fuel toward the barn. I blow a kiss to baby Zozobra. By the time I stand, the whole row of stalks is involved, inviting its neighbors to join their flickering dance. The field is full of ochre and melting gold.

I turn my face toward the well. I can see Travis leaning against my car, bag slung over his shoulder. I feel a grin cracking open on my face.

“You coming,” I ask when I’m in earshot.

“Yeah,” he says. “If you want me to.” I nod and his smile breaks like the sun over prairie.

I drive slow out onto the highway. The wind has picked up, blowing smoke in front of the house so I can’t see it anymore. Travis holds his hand out and I lace my fingers into his. “You’re warm,” he says, leaning his head back, closing his eyes.

“I am.” I put the sun behind us as I lay the pedal on the floor.

March’s El Portal Web Feature

This month’s web feature includes a short story by Jenni Baros.

Jenni Baros is a graduate of the University of Alaska, taking the long way to a Masters from Denver Seminary. She lives with her husband and two children in the Rocky Mountains outside Golden, Colorado. She has summited five 14ers and contributed to A Surrendered Life. She blogs at http://www.jenbaros.com.

If you have questions concerning El Portal web features, feel free to drop us a line at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Write West. Send it our way.

We want stories and poems about West. West is a bullet-riddled ’85 Grand Marquis, a gleaming spaceship hovering over Roswell, a cowboy paying for latte with his Amex-card, an alien wondering where in the world to get the golden iPhone. West is where it hurts, West is the rattlesnake you didn’t hear, the dust storm sanding your car, the champagne underneath the Hollywood sign, the checkout line of a grocery store that doesn’t carry mandarin-orange segments in fruit juice, green-chile and cheese burritos from the 24-hour gas station. West is when there’s no West left. West is where you always wanted to be.

Guidelines*:

  • Flash Fiction (500-1,500 words)
  • Short Stories (up to 4,000 words)
  • Creative Nonfiction (up to 4,000 words)
  • Poetry (3-5 poems)
  • Art & Photography (Black & White only; 300 dpi JPEG)

Send submissions to El.Portal@enmu.edu

Deadline: March 31, 2015

View El Portal‘s Terms of Submission page for official rules concerning submissions.

*Please submit all written work in .doc, .docx, or .rtf formats. With the exception of poetry and art/photography, please limit entries to one story or essay. Prizes will be awarded to ENMU students only. Prizes awarded only in Short Story, Poetry, and Art/Photography categories. When entering a submission, please include a 20-50 word biography to be printed alongside your piece in the event that it is accepted for publication.

Thinking West: Campfire Coffee Recipe

El Portal has decided to publish its own recipe of a western favorite: campfire coffee. Campfire coffee is an art and a science, despite what many city folks might believe. Moreover, coffee is just as important to the cowpokes of the range as it is to the business folks of the city. Unlike those city slickers who visit Starbucks or some upscale coffee joint, inhabitants of the West prefer to make their own coffee, using only a few ingredients, a crude coffee pot, and hot coals. Western coffee recipes vary from one family to the next. Regional recipes are known to circulate the West. Agua Dulce, the name for a coffee made in the northern mountains and valleys of Nueva México, is one such example. Agua Dulce is known for its sweeter side and is often served with dessert or after hearing good news. Campfire coffee recipes are often handed down from one generation to the next, with few modifications made to these family recipes. It is also rumored that some campfire coffee recipes have spurred range feuds between competitive families. In some well-known cases, campfire coffee recipes have even served as dowries for many a range wedding.

What you’ll need:

  • (x1) Metal coffee pot
  • Coffee grounds (rough grounds; finer grounds won’t work)
  • (x1) Metal spoon
  • Hot coals
  • Water (enough to fill your coffee pot)

Optional ingredients (after coffee is brewed):

  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Cilantro
  1. First you’ll need to make your fire. You will not be using the flames to brew your coffee. You only need to use the hot coals.
  2. Put water in your coffee pot. Place your coffee pot on the hot coals. Allow for the water to boil inside the pot.
  3. Once the water has boiled inside the pot, remove the pot from the coals and remove the pot’s lid. With the lid removed, add between 6 and 12 tablespoons of coffee grounds to your boiling water. (The more coffee grounds you add to the boiling water, the stronger the coffee will be.) Stir in the coffee grounds. As you stir, the coffee grounds will start sinking to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Place lid back on pot. Allow the coffee to sit for at least 5 to 10 minutes. This will allow for the coffee to brew and the remainder of the coffee grounds will sink to the bottom of the coffee pot.
  5. Pour yourself a steaming hot cup of campfire coffee. Add sugar and whatever else you might like in your coffee. However, unsweetened and untouched campfire coffee is the best, according to many inhabitants of the West. As one cowpoke put it, “It tastes like burnt motor oil, goes down like drain cleaner, warms you like a fire would, and wakes you up like a cold shower might.”

Thinking West: Robots Taking Selfies

In the West, autonomous robots roam the endless Wasteland. Their purpose for wandering the Wasteland is a mystery to scholars and wastelanders alike. Some scholars theorize they are collecting and cataloging information for a higher, nobler purpose. Others say these robots are out there trying to make contact with the mysterious peoples who inhabit the Wasteland. However, wasteland locals refute these claims, as these robots show little interest in the Wasteland’s inhabitants.

Current scholarship suggests a sounder, more bizarre theory behind the robots of the wasteland. It turns out, these robots are really self-obsessed machines looking for the perfect self-portrait (or selfie). Don’t believe us? Examine the image below. The image below is one of thousands scientists have found in the Wasteland.

Scientists have named these mechanical creatures Autonomous Roboticus. According to prominent zoologists, Autonomous Roboticus organizes itself around snapping the ideal selfie. To pull this off, these poor, narcissistic creatures exile themselves to the Wasteland, where they must suffer the horrid desert heat and inhospitable terrain, in order to snap the perfect selfie. Few members of the AR species have managed to snap the perfect selfie. Sand-blasted and sunbaked carcasses of Autonomous Roboticus litter the Wasteland, holding selfie-sticks and high-resolution cameras above their shriveled corpses for the perfect camera shot.

Those members of the AR species that have achieved the penultimate selfie are revered as saints or demigods, depending on your interpretation of their cryptic belief system. The locations of perfect selfies have become shrines for the AR selfie religion. AR pilgrims visit these shrines, hoping to attain saintly status by snapping the perfect shot of themselves.

Zoologists who study Autonomous Roboticus are perplexed by the species’ interest in selfies. Dr. Fredrick van der Dussen (University of Chicago) and Dr. Lola Choi (University of North Dakota) explain that the Autonomous Roboticus’ obsession with selfies has no evolutionary purpose. Both scholars have examined theories that suggest the AR selfie obsession is an evolutionary measure for curbing the overall population of breeding-age adults. However, they believe the data doesn’t fully support these theories. Dr. van der Dussen and Dr. Choi are hopeful that future, in-depth study of the AR species will provide answers concerning the creature’s obsession with self-portraits.

Robo_Selfie

An adult male (?) of the Autonomous Roboticus species taking a selfie in the Wasteland.

Thinking West: UFOs

According to a recent tweet posted by the CIA, the UFOs seen in the Southwest, among other places, were piloted by human beings and not extraterrestrials (a.k.a. little green men). What was the CIA up to? Apparently UFO sitings were really sitings of U-2 spy planes. Check out the CIA’s official history on the U-2 program. For those of us at El Portal, we’re not buying the official story, as this would insult our extraterrestrial readership. We’re assuming this is just another cover to snag our attention away from the bright lights in the sky….

RoswellDailyRecordJuly8,1947

Cowpokes, aliens, writers, send us your submissions….

We want stories and poems about West. West is a bullet-riddled ’85 Grand Marquis, a gleaming spaceship hovering over Roswell, a cowboy paying for latte with his Amex-card, an alien wondering where in the world to get the golden iPhone. West is where it hurts, West is the rattlesnake you didn’t hear, the dust storm sanding your car, the champagne underneath the Hollywood sign, the checkout line of a grocery store that doesn’t carry mandarin-orange segments in fruit juice, green-chile and cheese burritos from the 24-hour gas station. West is when there’s no West left. West is where you always wanted to be.

Write West. Send it our way.

 

Guidelines*:

Flash Fiction (500-1,500 words)

Short Stories (up to 4,000 words)

Creative Nonfiction (up to 4,000 words)

Poetry (3-5 poems)

Art & Photography (Black & White only; 300 dpi JPEG)

 

Send submissions to El.Portal@enmu.edu

Deadline: March 31, 2015

View El Portal‘s Terms of Submission page for official rules concerning submissions.

 

*Please submit all written work in .doc, .docx, or .rtf formats. With the exception of poetry and art/photography, please limit entries to one story or essay. Prizes will be awarded to ENMU students only. Prizes awarded only in Short Story, Poetry, and Art/Photography categories. When entering a submission, please include a 20-50 word biography to be printed alongside your piece in the event that it is accepted for publication.

Thinking West: Alexander Bain and the Great (Western) Migration of the 1840s

Alexander Bain, a Scottish inventor and clockmaker, invented the precursor to the modern facsimile (fax) machine. The fax machine, as it is now known, developed from Morse’s telegraph technology and clock machinery available to Bain. Bain’s ingenious machine received a patent in 1843. Today, the fax machine is a symbol of modern business and ultra fast communication. During the 1840s, another important event or rather a series of events, known as the Great Migration, took place on the North American continent. (The Great (Western) Migration of the 1840s should not be confused with the Great (South-North) Migration of the early twentieth-century.) Americans and new arrivals from Europe moved westward, hoping to settle or find fortunes in what are now the modern states of Utah, California, Oregon, and Washington.