This is West – A Dirt Town Brown and Cupcakes

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

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

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

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

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

He didn’t engage.

“Six years.” He shook his head.

“I’d change it if I could,” I said.

“Me too.”

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

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

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

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

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

This is West – My Unnamed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These things are mine.

(Fiction by Alexander Pappalardo)

This is West – The Playa

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

“Ironic, isn’t it?” He continued.

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

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

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

“Don’t know. Undocumented.”

“She was traveling then?”

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Rain keeps the body-count down.”

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

Call for Submissions (Last Chance!)

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

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

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

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

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

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

Call for Submissions

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

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

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

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

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

This is West – Skies of Brown, Clouds of Gray

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There was nothing beautiful about a New Mexican spring.

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

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

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

He was home.

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

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

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

Call for Submissions

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

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

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

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

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

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

Call for Submissions

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

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

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

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

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

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

This is West – Dear Samantha

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Dear Samantha,

It’s been hard out here in the desert without you, even though the desert here in Afghanistan often looks a lot like New Mexico. I want you to know I got your letter with the picture of you at the Grand Canyon with your mom. Looks like fun! I don’t have any pictures to give you, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot and about New Mexico a lot, so I want tell you about what I’ve been thinking.

I love landscapes, and I love you. Have I told you that? Let me rephrase that: I love you first and foremost. And I also love landscapes.

Shall I compare thee to a Western landscape? (Forgive me my cheesiness just this once?)

No allusions to mountains or valleys
as tempting as it is
No importune bodily wonderlands
as John Mayer would have it
No verdant greens
No broad undulating oceans
No hidden caves

Only endless wind-swept plains
beneath a starry sky
Only a woven blanket of knee-high grass
beneath the unobscured sun
Only red-fire sunsets
Only towering majestic buttes
Only bastions of clouds

The West is open.
The West is a world that everyone can see from a great distance.
The West is honest.
The West is a world where secret things hide in plain sight.
The West is bright.
The West is a world where sunlight touches the bones of the dead.

Okay, so that last line wasn’t so romantic, but let me tell you, the romantic poets didn’t understand the beauty of lack. It’s obvious out here where there’s nothing. King Solomon made so much of the places we think of when we think of love, but what about the places we see every day?

I love the thin hairs on the plains of your beautiful arms. I love the soft barren flats of your shoulder blades. I love the complexity of your scrub oak fingers. I love the oases of your algae green eyes.

I’ve been thinking about you when I walk over a dried lakebed that is cracked in a pattern like skin seen up close. You are Western, Samantha. You are a breath of air in a wide open space, and I can’t see the ends of you. The romantics loved gardens because gardens are finite, and they loved mountains because they are grand but also finite. Within definition and within control. A New Mexico plain is infinite to someone as small as me and yet solid, trustworthy, and giving. Like you, Samantha. I love that.

Anyway, looking forward to your next letter. Don’t worry too much about me out here; it’s pretty safe.

Missing you lots,

Javier

(Fiction and Photography by Alexander Pappalardo)

Call for Submissions

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

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

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

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

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

This is West – Coral and Mesquite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Flash Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

This is West – Down Range

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

Call for Submissions

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

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

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

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

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issue of El Portal: Click Here

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

This is West – Light of the World

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Look up, dear wanderer, dear withered man scorched brown by ten thousand rising suns. Look up over the wall of your mortality to the morning star that has finally stolen your life.

Your ancestors worshiped the light of the world, wondered at the renewed blessings of illumination that wiped away the shadows from the face of the earth, much like your mother used to wipe the tears from your eyes when you woke up in the dead of night, alone and afraid. Now the dried leather of your skin would soak up a hundred tears before they so much as reached your chin. It is was not the darkness you should have been afraid of wanderer, but the light.

No one faults you for what you have attempted, least of all me, a lowly jackrabbit. I wander the desert, a child of the sun much like yourself, except my provision is in grasses and cacti fruit, whereas yours depends on borders and nationality. I do not blame you for wanting a better life for your future children who have been stolen from you by the sun. The wall you sought to cross is still a long way off. It was not the wall that killed you, but you would not have risked your life if the world you lived in needed no walls. The walls of the world, the divisions between those with and without, drove you into the waiting arms of our sun, the giver of life, the bright and shining star, the life force of all living things on earth. And for you, the thief of the lifeblood of all living breathing creatures: water.

The sun, your nemesis, the veiled giant in the sky that beat upon your shoulders until you could no longer stand and boiled away the moisture from your brow. The sun is nothing but mitigated violence, its fury held at bay by the thin sliver of sky above, a broiling monstrosity that has raged for eons before either of us walked the earth, and that will continue to rage and rage and rage until it boils the oceans and disintegrates this paltry rock in space your kind – mankind – fights over so fervently. Your patched up khakis will have also disintegrated by then, as will have your hopelessly smudged blue button-up shirt, and those dark dazzling eyes you used to look up at the sky with at night. Dark hair that used to bend in the wind hardly more than yucca leaves, fine-lined lips that rarely bothered to hide a ivory-white smile, and a mouth shaped around gentle words: all gone. Your mouth is filled with sand. Your teeth with grit. Your hair with dust.

So close to the border you’ve gotten, wanderer. So ill prepared you were. Left to fight against nature alone, wanderer, against the light of the world. Alone.

If only mankind had no need of walls.

(Fiction and Photography by Alexander Pappalardo)

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)

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)