Thaddeus Rutkowski, Fall 2019 Visiting Writer

On Soft Wings

“A moth sees a flame, or multiple flames, through its compound eyes. The image is a kaleidoscope of luminous spots radiating from their brightest point— the corona around a burning candle’s tip. The moth has no choice but to fly toward the light.”
     – On Soft Wings, Thaddeus Rutkowski


In October of 2019, the Languages and Literature Department of Eastern New Mexico University welcomed fiction writer Thaddeus Rutkowski to Portales, New Mexico as our Visiting Writer. Rutkowski has published both full-length poetry and short story collections. A passionate teacher, Rutkowski guides fellow writers at Sarah Lawrence College’s Writing Institute, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA. He has also taught at Pace University, the Hudson Valley Writers Center, and the Asian American Writers Workshop. During his visit, Thaddeus Rutkowski took a few minutes to speak with El Portal about his philosophy as a writer.


EP: At what point in your life did you know that you were a writer?  How did you come to claim this identity for yourself – were there any obstacles you had to overcome or expectations you had to release in order to be able to call yourself a writer?

TR: I liked to write small pieces when I was a teenager. I was interested in stories, and I would get lost in the world of a book. That world could have been the one I knew, or it could have been a place completely different, someplace fantastic or just odd. Through writing, I could see things as they were, but I could also uncover a layer below what we see.

I would show these pieces to friends, maybe to a teacher. I even submitted a couple of them to mimeographed literary magazines. At least one was published, in purple ink on slick paper. I recently received a comment on Facebook from a high-school friend who remembered a character from one of those pieces—the Likable Creature. The name embarrasses me now.

In college, I read my work aloud in cafes, including a place called the Unmuzzled Ox, which was in the basement of a church in Ithaca, New York. I doubt there were more than a handful of people in the Unmuzzled Ox at any one time. But there was something communal about being there, sharing work, and listening to others. One of the attendees played the dulcimer—it was the first time I’d heard that instrument.

Did this make me a “writer”? I don’t know, but these are things that many poets and writers do, and that I still do. The only obstacle to doing such things is an internal, contrary voice, saying such activities are not important in the practical, commercial world. You can’t listen to that voice.


EP: What advice would you give to writers who struggle with developing/maintaining writing as a daily practice?

TR: Maintaining a daily practice is difficult for anyone, but here are some ways to keep a schedule:

Give yourself deadlines. Tell yourself you’ll write a page (or a paragraph, or a sentence) each day. Extend that deadline as needed—bigger projects take longer.

Put yourself in situations with built-in deadlines. Take a writing workshop. Apply to contests that have deadlines. Submit to journals and magazines.

Go to public readings. Many readings have an open mic. Bring something you’ve been working on, and read it.

Find a quiet place to work. Whether you have “a room of your own” or go to a favorite café, set aside time to do your work. You won’t spend all of your time writing—you might spend much of it gazing—but the down time will help you generate ideas.


Read El Portal‘s full interview with visiting writer Thaddeus Rutkowski  – plus two of his new pieces – in the upcoming Spring 20220 Issue.

Fall 2019 Visiting Writer

El Portal and the ENMU Department of Languages and Literature
are delighted to announce our Fall 2019 visiting writer: Thaddeus Rutkowski.


Join us for a personal reading by Thaddeus Rutkowski
on Tuesday, October 8th at 3:30 pm in ENMU’s Little Theater.

Rutkowski’s novel, Haywire, was a fiction finalist for the Asian American Literary Award, and won the Member’s Choice Award of the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York.

You can read more of Rutkowski’s work on the author’s website – Thaddeus Rutkowski – and on the NY Times Opinionator blog.

Reader: Tyne Sansom

Tyne photo

Tyne Sansom, former editor of El Portal will be reading his work on Monday, October 29th at 2:30p.m. in ENMU’s Art & Anthropology Building room 110.

Tyne Sansom is a graduate student in English creative writing at ENMU. He lives with his family in Portales, NM. He enjoys road cycling on the high plains and is an aspiring cigar aficionado.

Reader: Stefan Kiesbye

Kiesbye photo

Stefan Kiesbye, former creative writing professor at Eastern New Mexico University, and close friend of El Portal, will be reading excerpts of his work on Monday, October 29th at 2:30p.m. in ENMU’s Art & Anthropology Building room 110.

Stefan Kiesbye stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. His first book, Next Door Lived a Girl, won the Low Fidelity Press Novella Award, and has been translated into German, Dutch, and Spanish.

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone made EW’s Must List and was named one of the best books of 2012 by Slate editor Dan Kois.

The LA Noir Fluchtpunkt Los Angeles was published in February 2015, and The Staked Plains, a novella, was released that same year. The Gothic novel Knives, Forks, Scissors, Flames came out in October 2016, and German newspaper Die Welt commented that, “Kiesbye is the inventor of the modern German Gothic novel.”

His new novel Berlingeles is available from Revelore Press. Kiesbye teaches creative writing at Sonoma State University.



You're our type social media

We want your best work! El Portal is seeking submissions for our Spring 2019 issue. If you have a piece you’d like to share, our editors are always reading.

ENMU students are eligible for cash prizes and an extended deadline. ENMU student deadline is: December 15th.

Terror, Tension, Teaching

Kiesbye reading chair

Join El Portal staff & the ENMU Languages and Literature Deptartment in welcoming former faculty Stefan Kiesbye, now assistant professor of Creative Writing at Sonoma State University, back to the staked plains for a reading of his work on Monday, October 29th at 2:30 p.m. in the Art and Anthropology building, room 110.  Graduate student, Tyne Sansom, will provide a reading of his work as well.



call for submissions 2018

Don’t miss our print submission deadline for Fall 2018 – May 11, 2018.

Submissions for digital content are always welcome.

Send your best work our way: EL.PORTAL@ENMU.EDU

The American Way

by : Wesley Martin

Jeffrey and Tammy poured out of the minivan, jumping and hollering across the parking lot, before Lillian had even unbuckled her seat-belt.

“Hey! How many times have I told you two not to run off!” Their mom yelled at the kids as she shouldered her purse. “Lillian, get off your phone.”

Lillian groaned and twerped something about how family outings are the worst. She followed her parents to the building, passing under the shadow of the gigantic redwhiteandblue A sign towering over the restaurant. Again, she checked how many dotes her twerps had gotten recently. Still mostly just James, who wanted to ask her out but was too shy and probably knew she’d say no. None of her friends were paying attention to her boring normal summer.

Tammy and Jeffrey waited impatiently by the door. A poster for the food chain’s latest monstrosity, the Cheesy Shake, #truthordairy, covered the entrance.

“Oh, maybe I’ll try the gouda,” her mom said.

Lillian audibly gagged.

“You know, you used to love this place,” her dad said.

“Yeah, before I learned what real food was.”

“Come on now,” her dad replied. “I read an article that said their food was almost eighty percent real.”

Her mom held the door open for them all. Lillian entered twerping about never getting to go anywhere nice.

Inside was overly air conditioned and twangy country music piped through the speakers. “Welcome to America Trough, the non-stop trough spot!” the collage-age dork behind the counter greeted.

“Hello,” her mom said cheerfully, then snapped at the kids who were about to bolt to the wallow pit. “Jeffrey, Tammy, wait till after we order.”

The family stared at the menu while an obese couple ahead of them paid the cashier. Lillian wondered if they ever stared at the menu or if they had it memorized by now.

“Do we want to share a family trough, or does everybody want their own thing?” her dad asked.

“I want a toy!” Jeffrey said. “They’ve got Patriasoars,” referring to the plastic figures from the cartoon perpetually haunting their living room TV.

“Me too!” Tammy said. “I want a Tripartisiantops.”

“Fine. We’ll get you both kiddie chutes,” her dad said. “Lillian, what about you?”

“Just a veggie bucket.”

“That’s all?” her mom asked. “You gotta have some protein in your diet.”

“You know how they treat their animals, right?” Lillian scoffed. “They immobilize them and keep them in tiny boxes for most of their lives, intravenously pumping in nutrients and steroids, all while talk radio is blared through their prisons.”

“Talk radio? Please?” her mom said. “They couldn’t be so delicious if that were true.”

“I only want a veggie bucket, OK?” Lillian said, then sent a twerp about the ignorance of older generations.

“Alright. What do you want to drink?”

“Diet Syrup,” Lillian said.

“Can we go play now?” Tammy asked.

“Yes, fine. Lillian, watch your siblings,” her mom said.

Lillian found a pen where she could watch the wallow pit. She scrolled through her friends trenches. Sandy was still raving about the DJ Platitude concert she went to last week. Pamela had posted another photo dump from her trip to Merch Fest. They’d been getting lots of dotes. It seemed like Lillian was the only one who didn’t get to do something fun this summer.

The obese couple, seated across the aisle, gossiped over the one of the woman’s coworker’s sad attempt at pulling off skinny jeans. The man’s monotone chuckle punctuated the woman’s sentences as she berated her coworker. An employee, wearing a rubber apron, hauled over two large pails to the couple and dumped them into their trough. The squishy sloppy sound of the food piling out made Lillian ill.

“Could we get some extra napkins, please?” The obese man asked, and then the couple scrarfed and snorted the contents of their trough.

Lillian stuffed her headphones in and played some technogrundgepop to drown out the obscenity across the aisle. She looked to the wallow pit, Tammy and Jeffrey were already covered head-to-toe in mud. Thankfully, they had remembered to take off their sneakers and store them in the plastic cubby.

A few moments later Lillian’s parents joined her in the pen and passed her drink. Both her parents sucked on their Cheesy Shakes while her mom searched the new releases on Drooloo for something to watch tonight. Her dad shook his head at every suggestion. She couldn’t hear the conversation but Lillian knew her dad was pointing out something wrong with all the actors from the titles her mom was interested in. After four or five discarded movie suggestions the employee in the apron brought their food pails over. He sloshed the family order into their trough and tiny flecks of meat splattered in all directions. He handed her mom the Patriasoar toys and placed the veggie bucket in front of Lillian.

Bits of lettuce and carrot shavings floated on the surface of the thick milky dressing. Lillian picked up a lettuce leaf and watched the dressing drizzle back down into the bucket.

Her dad nudged her and gestured to remove the headphones. She rolled her eyes as she did so.

“Hey, glad you’re going to be a part of the family while we eat,” he told her.

“Yeah, how could I resist that?” Lillian said and dropped the lettuce leaf back into the bucket.

Her parents got on the knees and bent over the trough. They happily munched away, and Lillian only swirled the veggies around in the bucket. She checked her trench again. James doted her last two twerps.

“You know, honey, you’re more than welcome to our trough if you want to save your salad,” her mom said with food smothered across her lips and chin.

Lillian hated herself for admitting it, but the cheesysaltymeaty aroma arising from the trough was appealing. She double checked the restaurant to make sure no one from school was around. Just strangers who couldn’t care less how they looked publicly gorging themselves. All clear. With partial relief and partial abhorrence she bent down next to her parents and dug into the American Trough.

The Real Deal



Jamie and the other kids threw rocks in puddles while they waited outside the fairgrounds. Their ruckus went unnoticed amidst the lights and sounds of the carnival. Jamie sighed and dropped his handful of rocks. He looked at his watch. It was approaching midnight.

“There he is!” Lindsey shouted and pointed to the figure approaching on a bike.

All the kids circled around Kyle before he had even stopped.

“Do you have them?” Jamie said, pushing his way through the group.

“Yeah. I’ve got them. I said I would,” Kyle replied and reached into his backpack. He pulled out a folded up cloth. Everyone hushed and leaned in as he unwrapped the cloth, revealing two hand-minted gold coins.


“No way.”

“Is it real?”

“Of course it’s real,” Jamie said and patted Kyle on the back. “Kyle said he could get them and he did. He’s the real deal.”

“How did you get them?” Noah asked.

“My mom found them cleaning out a storage unit,” Kyle said. “They’re Spanish bullions and worth a lot.”

“But won’t your mom kill you when she finds out they’re gone?”

“It’ll be worth it. A chance to see a dragon only comes around once in a lifetime, right?” Jamie said and held his fist up to Kyle.

Kyle nodded and bumped fists. “Right.”

“Oh my gosh, you guys are so lucky.” Lindsey said. “Why does it have to cost a gold coin?”

Jamie shrugged. “Dragons don’t accept MasterCard, I guess.”

“So how do we do this?” Kyle asked Jamie as he handed him his coin.

“We have to find the dwarf monk.”

Kyle had been certain Jamie was pulling some kind of stunt and he’d admit he made the whole thing up about the dragon after he showed him the coins. But, sure enough, after scouring through the hordes of guests and carnies, they found a dwarf dressed in brown robes by himself at the snack tables. His head was shaved in the center just like a medieval monk, and his sandals were kicked up another chair as he sipped from his goblet.

“We want to see the dragon,” Jamie said.

The dwarf barely looked at them. “You can’t afford it.”

“We can,” Jamie said, holding up his coin. “Thanks to my friend here.”

The dwarf sat up and looked from the coin to Kyle. “Those are yours?”

Kyle gulped and nodded.

“Fine,” The dwarf said. “I’ll take you to the dragon if you think you know what you’re doing.”

The dwarf monk finished his goblet and led the kids through the maze of tents and booths, all the way to the back where an enormous tent was pitched about fifty yards away from the rest of the carnival. Kyle couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed such a large tent before now. As they walked through the dark, Kyle sweated profusely in the chill air.

“Are you sure about this?” Kyle whispered to Jamie.

“You want to see the dragon don’t you?” Jamie replied.

“Yeah, but this is all so weird.”

“Well, if you’re afraid you can turn back,” Jamie said.

“I’m not afraid,” Kyle said, crossing his arms.

At the entrance, the dwarf pulled back the canvas flap and gestured through the doorway. “The dragon is inside. Pay your tribute and all will be fine.”

The boys held out their bullions to the dwarf.

“No. You pay the dragon himself.”

Jamie and Kyle stepped into the fire-lit tent and the flap closed behind them. A wooden platform surrounded the edge of the entire tent encompassing a deep dark pit. They clutched their coins tightly. Jamie moved towards the platform railing.

“Wait!” Kyle spouted. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this.”

“We have the gold. We’re fine.” Jamie said.

Kyle looked down at his coin. Flecks of gold paint had rubbed off onto his hand.

“Come on, you said you weren’t afraid.” Jamie said, then cocked his head slightly. “You can hear it breathing.”

Jamie leaned over the railing. “I think I see it.”

Kyle closed his eyes and took a long deep breath, then he joined Jamie at the edge of the platform. Respiration echoed out the pit. Humid air rose past their faces.

“It’s too dark. I can’t make it out,” Kyle said.

Jamie pointed to the tiny glints of light around the edge of the pit.

“Those must be coins. I think we need to pay,” Jamie said and tossed his bullion down. It clinked against the gold pieces below.

Kyle held out his coin, but hesitated.

“Go on. Do it,” Jamie said.

“I can’t.” Kyle stammered. “It’s-”

“Do you want to see the dragon or not, Kyle? I thought you were the real deal.”

Kyle dropped his fake coin into the pit of real treasure.

Two yellow eyes blinked open. The shuffle of coins rang as the faint traces of a large body stretched out. Deep laughter bellowed out and the yellow eyes faced upward at the boys.    Kyle stumbled backward and fell to the floor.

“Jamie, they were fake!” Kyle yelled as he crawled to the doorway. “I painted them! They were fake!”

“You what?!” Jamie gaped.

Before it could fully sink in, the dragon emerged from his lair and snatched the two boys who had stiffed him. They screamed and the dragon roared. Their ruckus went unnoticed amidst the lights and sounds of the carnival.


(Fiction by Wesley Martin, Photography by Bridget Richardson)

An Interview with El Portal’s Incoming Editor: Bridget Richardson


The school year has come to its conclusion and that means El Portal is just about to slip into its summer hibernation. Before that, however, we’d like to introduce you to El Portal’s incoming editor-in-chief.

Bridget Richardson, a long-time resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will officially be taking over as El Portal’s editor in August 2017. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in May 2016, Bridget entered the graduate program in English at Eastern New Mexico University in August 2016. Bridget’s hobbies include reading, writing short stories, and, first and foremost, rescuing animals. She loves adventure novels and her favorite is Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jewels Verne.

Bridget became aware of El Portal in 2012 when one of her professors encouraged her to submit to the journal. In fact, one of her short stories, “The Toy Library,” appears in the journal’s Spring 2013 edition. Her enjoyment of writing isn’t all that attracts her to the journal’s editorship, however. Bridget also has a keen interest in editing.

She says: “I enjoy editing and looking at ideas that people have which are turned into stories. I like to see people’s writing. I like to help take that writing a step further through editing it.”

Although El Portal will not be seeing any drastic changes in the coming year, Bridget aims to see an increase in submissions and interest from ENMU’s student body. In regards to this, she says: “I want to increase awareness about the journal. When there’s more students submitting, there’s a bigger on-campus presence. It also encourages students who may have a creative side in less creative fields to branch out into their hobbies in addition to their studies.”

This isn’t to say that she hopes to ignore our national and international contributors, however. Bridget also hopes to continue improving upon the foundations already in place, which make El Portal a unique venue for writers across the world.

Bridget’s unending enthusiasm and unique perspective is certain to reinvigorate El Portal and help to keep it the successful—and proudly strange—publication it has been thus far. We hope you will join us in celebrating Bridget as she assumes editorship of the journal.

Bridget Richardson can be reached at:

(Article by Kayleen Burdine)