This Is West – Red-Pepper Trailer

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“There’s no magic here.” She said. Her hair was black ice, slippery shine. Her fat lips formed around the words as if she were praying to the god she couldn’t find again. She’d tried. Time and again, she’d tried. Bending knees never led her back to Mexico–the sharp incline of rock where her grandmother had taught Marisol the old ways. Stirring and praying a mixture of what looked like the starchy water after boiling macaroni, I didn’t know what she meant by magic. She told me her grandmother had spooned it to her. After her father had tried to sell the cattle so Marisol could visit a medical doctor in Mexico City. After the cows died of starvation. After her home turned to ash. After months of waiting on her father. After knowing he was killed by a stretch of highway in Arizona more spiteful than the Devil it was named after. No death certificate. It kept his bones.

“This land only takes.” She said after boiling the liquid her grandmother had wrapped her in and sung a song from the mountain she was born.

She hummed the tune every so often. A low bubbling melody that always woke me. When she was cooking. When she was distant. Marisol sang it after we fucked on her couch. She never wanted to look me in the face when I came. Her stare focused on a small decaying rot on the ceiling of her bedroom. There was a chicken in her living room the first time I came to her. She broke its neck in front of me over the kitchen sink. I never wanted to fuck anyone else again.

I had come to her the first time for a promotion at the Plant. A word of mouth visit and a superstition I’d been harboring since I was a boy. Since all of us were boys. I sniffed dead things and she chanted, only now I knew for my benefit. A tourist show. I paid her my savings. And she let me taste her pussy. It’s flavor like red-pepper flakes–heat that stung my nose long after I had left her trailer. I put red-pepper flakes in a vial and wore it around my neck. Like a talisman I had found on vacation.

“There’s no magic here. No life.”

“You have to give it a chance, Marisol.” I was always convincing her to stay. That there wasn’t just death here.

“I’ll die here.” She said over stove coffee and a West Texas stench. Knife in her hand, her nipples always hardened when she cut garlic in the morning to keep the meat pack smell out of her flour. There was something ancient about the curvature of her body. A secret I had never known. That I would never know, even after I’d had her twice that morning. Even after she’d found god again a year later.

“You don’t know magic.”

She screamed at night sometimes. She wasn’t sleeping or having nightmares. She was awake. She told me she could feel the bones of her father cracking under the weight of this sky.

“You won’t die with me, I’ll keep you.”

I didn’t know that I couldn’t. I didn’t know that red-pepper flakes weren’t ever mine.

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

A Welcome and Call for Submissions

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Welcome back! Today marks the beginning of ENMU’s Spring 2016 semester and with the Spring 2016 issue well under way, it’s time to look towards the future. El Portal is now accepting submissions for its Fall 2016 issue. Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally! Deadline March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

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

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

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

This Is West – Eyes for Living; Hands for Growing

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Andrew stoops down to the snow-dusted earth and claws out a scoop of dirt into his hand. His four-year-old daughter Abigail, held with the other hand, watches him with searching eyes. She loves to watch her father move in his deliberate way, burly arms swinging beneath three layers of clothing in the new winter cold; he looks like a teddy bear when he’s all bundled up to face the frost.

“Daddy, how come you’re getting your hand all dirty? Mommy told me I shouldn’t play with dirt.” She instinctively reaches towards the ground to scrape up a bit of mud for herself, but the chocolate colored dirt is the consistency of still-too-frozen ice cream and she can’t break the surface.

“I’m not playing with it. I’m just… thinking about it.” He knows this sounds dumb, but a four-year-old – if they somehow avoid asking why – won’t consider one statement any more unusual than another. Abigail’s dark eyes shift to Andrew’s hand, then to Andrew, waiting to see what he’ll do with the dirt clod, or to see what he’s already doing with it.

Andrew considers the lump of earth he has displaced: from this earth he has grown fifteen harvests of hay. The snow will only help now that the harvest season is already done with. More moisture without the devastation of flooding. And from these western fields flattened upon the horizon, Andrew has dug out a meaningful existence. One where his hands find their place.

Abigail’s fingers, smudged at the tips with mud but otherwise soft and white, reach into her father’s hand to touch the ball of dirt, rolling it around in his palm.

The difference between their hands is apparent: his hands are cracked with cold and wear, like an animal’s hide compared to his daughter’s youthful palms. Her eyes are equally fresh, having only witnessed three-and-a-half years of a world that mostly did not extend beyond Andrew’s farm. Andrew could sense Abigail’s tender soul in his daughter’s eyes, but too much had been made of eyes as far as Andrew was concerned. “Our whole life streams out of our eyes,” Andrew says to himself, quoting an author for whom he had particular regard. But our eyes don’t feed us, he thinks as he looks at his daughter. Hands deserve their poetic place. Eyes may bring the world to us and us to the world, but hands shape the world, break it, build it, plant it, uproot it, cradle it, lift it and spin it in the air with a loving twirl. Eyes express the soul, but hands prove the soul’s worth.

Andrew’s wife had wondrous eyes and a beautiful soul, but her hands, able as they were, her hands never lived up to her eyes’ assurances. She promised warmth with her eyes while her hands sewed something else. It must have killed her inside to be in such conflict with herself, Andrew thinks.

“Daddy, I’m getting cold.” Abigail’s hands had abandoned the dirt, now pulling at the hem of Andrew’s coat instead.

Andrew drops his muse to the ground and wipes his hand on his trousers.

“Let’s go home sweetie. I’ll make you some cocoa when we get inside.”

(Fiction and Photography by Alexander Pappalardo)

This Is West – Winter Nights

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There is no stillness like winter nights on the plains,
cold creeping through the cracks in the earth
and the gaps around aged windows,
chilling skin and bone even through layers
as I stand just inside the screen door
listening to the watery whisper
of rain against concrete, chain-link, and dust.
Nobody ventures outside these days.

Gone are the noisy children on bicycles,
the families grilling in the summer heat,
and trails of muddy footprints leading
from back porches to swimming pools.
Now the night is matched only briefly by the days
which end as soon as they begin,
a halfhearted trickle of sunlight teasing
barren trees and yellow-brown land.

A whistle blares six blocks east
and the glass door hums with the clamor
of thirty-seven train cars rumbling through;
the neighborhood liberated, briefly,
from the solemn weight of its silence.
I smear a hand through the fog,
stare at puddles illuminated by streetlights,
at sidewalks like smooth black glass.

The racket of the train brings the land to life,
a vibrant glimmer somewhere deep within,
a promise that in the land of two seasons,
the second will eventually return.

(Poetry and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

This Is West – Not Mine

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While I take a short break on my run I stand a few feet short of a barbed-wire fence, tumbleweeds stacked waist-high against the artificial barrier. For such an expansive landscape, Eastern New Mexico is ironically inaccessible. Frustratingly inaccessible. This must be how the cowboys felt way back when, the land shut off in front of them by fences and railroads stretching across the country like latitudes across a map.

I’d prefer to camp where I like, lie down beneath the stars where it pleases me, run over prairie trails wherever the grass is greenest, or brownest depending on how I feel. I know that’s a little too romantic, a little too pastoral. Really though, if I have to live in a land with nothing on it – no hills, no trees, no rocks – I’d like a little space.

To be clear, I don’t mean space for just myself. I’m not like the fence-builders. I mean space for everyone if they want it for a night. Otherwise, let everyone live somewhere else. This isn’t the city. The land is not buried beneath concrete and hidden behind skyscrapers. There is no excuse for not having any space.

The land runs in all directions over the horizon, broken up into geometric shapes. Squares after squares, often with verdant circles embedded within or brown circular furrows with weeds and grass growing along the edges. The closest thing to the original land lives on the medians and shoulders of the roads that run between towns. A thin strip of prairie grass clings to life along the infrastructural veins of the Southwest, occasionally swaying fitfully as semi-trucks and cars whiz by.  Between the lattice of dirt roads checkering the landscape, the land is put into production for the nation. I benefit from some of the output sometimes, in the form of milk or pumpkins or whatever it is they put the land to use for. I guess that’s what bugs me though; I live in the midst of an agricultural factory, where the land is a machine put to use. People don’t live in the middle of factories. Who have you ever heard of putting a house between production lines in a car factory?

I’m about ready to run again, but I have to hop the fence in front of me first, or I could run an extra mile and a half to get around it. I prefer not to run that much farther. Before me lies a square of land, fenced off; “not yours” it says to me. I look at the blocks of land behind me and to either side of me. “Not mine, not mine, not mine” the voice in my head says to me. For as far as the eye can see, “not mine.” Tough place to live.

(Fiction and Photography by Alex Pappalardo)

El Portal – Fall 2015 Edition

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Readers can now access the PDF version of El Portal’s Fall 2015 issue.  Click on the image above to access the PDF file.  If you have any questions about the Fall 2015 issue, please feel free to contact the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Full List of Contributors:

Sreyash Sarkar “Whirligig”

Justin J. Murphy “Space-time Snakebite Continuum Blues”

Alex Neely “A Trailer”

Christopher Mulrooney “wicked”

Gloria Keeley “The Paddlewheel Steamboat”

William C. Blome “Simpson and Galina”

John Wojtowicz “Entwined”

Jim Gustafson “Necessary”

Chase Dearinger “Statehood”

Ernest Williamson “The Guilt and Innocence of Love Interrupted”

Ernest Williamson “The Master”

Ernest Williamson “Asia + Emmanuel + Africa = Completion”

Matti Bratcher “The Vastness of New Mexico”

Geovanny Lujan “Leaning Tree”

Geovanny Lujan “Haunted”

Daniel Cantagallo “Billboard, Philadelphia”

Jeffrey Alfier “The Rock Over Kerrera Sound”

Sasha Kasoff “Awake”

Luke Johnson “Leaden Oceans”

Luke Johnson “Throat”

Elena Botts “spring snow:”

Manuel Trevizo “Overcast Judgement”

Alexander Pappalardo “The Well-Traveled Man”

Woodrow Hightower “Twin Revolutions”

Daniel Moore “Morality Crush”

This Is West – JJ’s Café

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The coffee was stale already and the sun had barely risen. It was hot and the dry stuffiness of the diner made words thick and heavy. There was no time for nonsense in this kind of heat. The cowboy hats that sat erect across from one another with half-empty plates of hash browns and ketchup scraped up their checks and made their way to the cashier’s counter at the entrance.  Their boots left dust tracks on the tile floor. Everything left dust here.

A woman wearing a blue sleeveless shirt and white capris motioned for the waitress and pointed to her coffee. The men at the table shared features, same dark eyes and noticeably sharp chins, they exchanged familiar glances when there was a pause in the conversation and they both put salt and pepper on their scrambled eggs. The man with the arm around the sleeveless woman had his napkin folded in his lap, the other fisted his fork and shoveled eggs into his mouth. The man sitting next to sleeveless woman slanted his shoulders toward her and put an arm around her chair. He nodded and stared into his scrambled eggs as she kept talking.  The couple sitting across from them listened to the sleeveless woman as the waitress filled up her cheap porcelain mug. They nodded and smiled to the waitress while the woman kept talking.

“She’s mettlesome. Poor thing she’s almost been crazy, twice. It’s a good thing she’s pretty and thank god she found B.J.”

The other woman at the table leaned into the sleeveless woman’s words and before she asked, “Does he treat her nice?” she wiped a small dust spot off of her black wranglers.

“He’s educated, works for Sandia Labs. He buys her clothes and takes her boy to soccer games on Saturdays. She’s lucky. He doesn’t have to do that. It’s like you and your brother, what was it? Down’s Syndrome?”

“Yeah.” The woman in black wranglers answered. “He’d be forty-two. Sometimes Doug would take him out to the farm when there’s wasn’t much to do.” She patted her husband’s leg underneath the table.  “He would go with me to town and help me grocery shop, it was nice to have the company. He loved it here, the diner, we would come on Wednesdays and have chocolate pie together.”

“Like dad, he loved this pie.” The man with his napkin in his lap looked up from his eggs and at the man sitting across from him and spoke for the first time.

“He used to. Toward the end he was happy if he had his whiskey. The wind does that to people. Hardens their taste buds.”

They paused on the asphalt and promised to keep in touch this time. The woman in the blue sleeveless shirt sat next to her husband in their black sedan as they pulled onto the highway. She reached her hand over to her husband and wiped the tip of his chin.

“I’d forgotten how dusty it was here.”

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

The Submission Deadline’s Almost Here!

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There’s less than one week left until the deadline for the Spring 2016 issue! With the release of our Fall 2015 issue scheduled for next month, El Portal is looking ahead. We have already received a number of submissions, but that doesn’t mean the submission period is over yet! Prose, poetry, flash fiction, photography, and art are all welcome internationally, so be sure to submit your pieces in time for consideration! Deadline October 31st.

Please email your submissions to el.portal@enmu.edu

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

This Is West – Railroad Crossing

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Long, candy-cane-striped arms descend across the road in front Andrew, cherry-red lights flashing alternatively on the cautionary railroad crossing sign.

“Damn it. God damn it.”

Andrew will be late for his flight for sure now. He debates trying to beat the train across the tracks, but already knows he won’t do it. A train takes a mile to stop, he’s heard. A car doesn’t come out on top in a train collision, he’s also heard.

A few seconds later the train rumbles into view and cuts across the street. There is no end to the train. Not yet. Just car after car of shipping containers, stacked two high rolling clickity-clack clickity-clack in front of him. I could have beaten the train, Andrew laments. It wouldn’t have even been close.

He continues to wonder, But what if another train had been coming from the opposite direction? Well, he could have looked that way too, but it probably wasn’t worth the risk. He probably would have been late for his flight regardless of this train now running and swaying past him. He was only going on vacation after all. No deadlines, just his own, personal time he would lose waiting for a new flight. “God damn it.”

Still, there are some things not worth risking.

Andrew grew up next to railroad tracks. He remembers one time as a kid when a man approached him next to the railroad tracks as he watched a 10-car train roll slowly by. The man wore a non-descript denim jacket and ball cap with graying hair almost the color of his skin, and he seemed very adamant about keeping children from finding themselves underneath or in front of trains.

“You see those numbers on the side?” the man asked Andrew, pointing at the side of a boxcar. Andrew could see them.

“Those are how much those cars weigh. That one is 65,000 pounds. It would cut your leg right off; it’s that heavy. You hear me son? Don’t play on those tracks. It’s dangerous. You’ll be crushed like a grape.” The man grabbed Andrew’s shoulder to drive home his point; Andrew nodded. “You’ll be squashed flat like a pancake.”

Andrew knew trains were heavy. Sometimes he put pennies on the tracks and the train would flatten them. He wasn’t dumb, but the man continued, heedless of Andrew’s comprehension. He wondered if his parents could see this man talking to him. They would be mad Andrew let a stranger talk to him.

“You’ll be cut in half like you were butter.”

The end of the train comes into sight and soon the barber-pole-striped gates lift, allowing Andrew to continue on his way. He still looks both ways for oncoming trains.

“Damn it.” He sees that he will still be late for his flight. He could speed, but he’d probably get pulled over at some point, and then he’d miss his flight anyway. Probably. Some things are not worth risking.

(Fiction and Photography by Alex Pappalardo)

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)

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)

The Approaching Deadline, Web Features, and Some Fun

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It’s a little over three weeks until the submission deadline for El Portal‘s Spring 2016 issue. Prose, poetry, flash fiction, photography, and art are all welcome internationally, so be sure to submit your pieces in time for consideration! 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


Additionally, stay tuned tomorrow, October 7th, for the first entry in our new flash fiction/photography series This is West. A new piece will be posted the first three Wednesdays of every month, written by our very own staff members Kayleen Burdine, Jade Smith, and Alexander Pappalardo.

El Portal Submission Deadline Approaching

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.

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.

Call for Submissions (El Portal, Fall 2015)

El Portal is currently seeking submissions for its Fall 2015 issue. 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.

El Portal is seeking 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-chili 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.