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Tenement Press is an occasional publisher of esoteric,
accidental, & interdisciplinary literatures.

‘My head is my only house unless it rains’

Don Glen Vliet

Rehearsal      /     10. Siri Katinka Valdez 
A shortlistee for the Desperate Literature Prize 2023

La Calima

La calima is a vast cloud of fine sand kicked up by storms
in the nearby Sahara Desert, sometimes carrying locusts
with it, and does nobody any good.

Araguyan Island Travel Guide

There were German hippies scattered everywhere. Naked, half-naked, wet, sunburned—passed out. After three days and three nights of full moon partying, only one of them seemed to be awake. A twiggy woman with short auburn hair, a washed-out tank top and a knitted shawl wrapped around her hips. She paced barefoot up and down the black, sandy beach. Mumbling, then shouting, then laughing. Calling out to anyone and no one...

I have a clownfish in my belly
I have a clownfish in my belly
Ich habe einen Clownfisch in meinem Bauch

The soft waves tuned into her little chant—creating a cacophony mashuhshhhhh. Mediating the language of the Thieides, who once walked this land. MAYUC–MOTHER / N-ÏNET–BONE / O-CHE–BUTTER / XERA–SKY ... Skybutter, motherbone. Motherbutter, skybone.


The Thieide people had settled here eons ago—unknown exactly how they had gotten here.  Perhaps wandering Imazighen from the Sahara, they were strong and tall, had fair eyes and blond hair. They herded sheep, drank the juice of the prickly pear cactus and made gofi flour from crushed xaxti roots. They named these things after the letter AAmän, Ayuh, Awan, Anaïs ... water, skull, milk, honey.

They slept in caves, hunted giant rats and ran from mad dogs, the Presa Canarios. They leaped up and down the burnt-out ravines with long wooden poles, crisscrossing through generations. They used the spirit of the wind to communicate, from valley to peak with a high-pitched, bird-like, oscillating whistle. Phhhhhiiiuuuuu ... two fingers covering the opening of their mouths. Messages whooshing over the island, carried by the wind—as if they shared one giant lung.  


Phhhiiiiuuu ... We call upon Ara’che for nourishing rain. We call upon Chiraxi for blessed abundance. We fear Gyoto—the black dog cancha nestling in the volcano, violent and vindictive. If he crawls into our minds, we pierce a hole in our skull to let his spirit out. When our bodies are old and the red owl calls—we are carried to the mountain cliff to die in peace, with a bowl of fresh goat milk.


Or maybe this was not true. Maybe after the Spanish invaded and the indigenous culture perished, they recorded it wrong; they got the names all mixed, and the archipelago’s place-specific cultures confused. And the name for butter was actually bone. And the God of the Sky was actually the Goddess of the Sun, and the Dog Devil nestled in the details. ‘Did you ingest something?’ Or maybe this was not true. Maybe after the Spanish invaded and the indigenous culture perished, they recorded it wrong; they got the names all mixed, and the archipelago’s place-specific cultures confused. And the name for butter was actually bone. And the God of the Sky was actually the Goddess of the Sun, and the Dog Devil nestled in the details.

‘Did you ingest something?’ 

A man yawned to the clownfish woman, as she passed him.  

‘No, I only had three beers,’ she chortled and sat down beside him—fiddling with her jade ankle bracelet, as he rolled her a Manitou.

She began telling him about ‘ze cool’ clairvoyant dream she once had, six years ago. About three purple and orange planets that formed a triangle in the Milky Way. She showed him the small tattoo on the inside of her thigh, as proof.

‘See? Ze triangle?’

The guy nodded while searching his leather pouch for a lighter.  

‘So, you see, ze energy of this triangle will protect us, when ze shit hits ze fan.’

‘Well, take it easy, OK?’ the guy said, lighting up her cigarette. The woman got up and continued on with her soliloquy.        

‘... Clownfisch....meinem Bauch! Haha!’

The milky Moon faded, as the Sun made its way up from behind the jagged mountains. Bathing the ridge in a warm, yellow glow; slabs, rocks, lizard, beetle —a neon blue string tangled in the shrub. Succulents and purple lichen, a vintage can of Coca-Cola.

The flora had co-evolved with its environment over millions of years. An island outside of Africa. Its tip soaring up from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the rest of the land submerged in saltwater. Civilizations long lost at the bottom of the sea. If there ever was an Atlantis, it was here.
From a bird’s eye, the eroded, volcanic land mass looked like the lower jaw of a fossilized giant. Cranium above water, torso wrapped in a velvety blue cape. Crooked, canine teeth piercing the landscape—molars precisely chiseled. And in the middle of their jaw a moist, spongy tongue—pulsating with bacterial life. A turtle-bellied organism of moss, juniper, laurel trees, black ants, fungi, lost species and cultic shrines. Such as the mighty molar Cerro Grande—a mountain-top so flat it served as an altar for the Gods.

But then the Spanish came, and history changed, and the Spirits were chased out of the forest and replaced with Descartes’ mechanistic tales—sifting out the mythical creatures endemic to the land. But still, for those that paid attention, it was a giant’s jaw, nevertheless—cracking an eerie smile.
The fresh seafood truck that had come from San Andrés, navigated around the mesas between the villages of Hierro and Arure—final stop Valle Dorado.


The distorted sound from the loudspeakers reverberated through the narrow walls of the gorge. Like a revolution was happening: Viva la Swordfish! Truck scurrying down the terraced ravine, a flock of fleeing birds, a beep-el-li-beep in every sharp turn to notify oncoming traffic. The road slithering like a serpentine down the terrain. A dancing chiaroscuro of light and shade shifted position with every turn of the truck, sharp sunrays and colossal shadows painted the road ahead, before the narrow landscape finally gave in and opened up to the vast, Atlantic Ocean—shimmering in the rays of Chiraxi.  

A gameshow-esque ta-da-ding-ding-dei announced the trucks arrival down at La Playa. A quick exchange of money for goods, a few familiar ¿Cómo estás? and off it went, heading towards Puerto Alto. Passed the clownfish lady and the full moon people, ta-da-ding-ding-dei ... Rows of palm trees and wooden benches overlooking the ocean.

A naked man climbed down the boulders to the small, secluded beach nestled between Puerto Alto and the so-called baby-beach (a lingering smell of sunscreen and soft stools). The man began washing his body, dipping his tangled hair in the glistening saltwater. He seemed to have appeared from nowhere, nude, suddenly there: Hercules—as if he stepped out from a history book, a Greek glitch, only to disappear again into the rockpile, into a fracture of time. A man who needs no one, craves nothing, sustained only by sunlight and fresh coconuts, with the aid of a Swiss army knife.

A while later, Hercules was driving around in a shiny Jeep Wrangler, the canvas sunroof flamboyantly flapping. Nodding to the man who ran the supermercado by the wharf.

The supermercado had beach balls and nets, snorkeling gear and flip-flops. It had instant coffee, stale white bread, evaporated milk, multicolored markers and expired sunscreen. The sunglasses-and-postcards-from-the-80s thingy that rotated halfway, before it got jammed. . Ice cream, potato chips, slimming teas, sodas, tampons, toilet paper, neon colored dishwasher soap. Clusters of brown-spotted short bananas, straw hats and Spanish romance novels.

Puerto Alto was its own little ecosystem of supply and demand—a fermented brew of eclectic, albeit calorie-oriented, commerce. There was the hole-in-the-wall pizza-place, that made ‘damn good pizza’ that you ate on the curb. The Lebanese restaurant with the greasy baba ghanoush. There was the dusty fish restaurant that had been there since the seventies, and its back alley where a colony of cats would linger after closing hours, devouring fish heads and shrimp shells—a sublime carcass feast. There was the popular breakfast spot, the ‘Peculiar Art Café,’ heavily decorated with figurative paintings made with saturated acrylics. And for every day of sun, and every day of sorrow, there was Yael’s dream. The petit ice cream parlor by the old harbor beach, and the very first establishment to have gotten a mention in Lonely Planet. Yael—the German-Basque jew from Berlin-Bilbao. Early fifties; egg-shaped head, passion fruit breath, sheepish smile, three-day beard, odd humor and little-to-no knowledge of English. J.R. Ewing, bang bang!

The old Puerto Alto harbor had a mercurial spirit. Some days it was calm, some days it was like a sea monster regurgitating objects it had devoured years back.

Last Spring, just before the tourist season, an unidentified body had been found floating in the water—face down. The police had been called. Juan Carlos had come, the Chief of Police, together with a forensic pathologist from San Miguel—and that was that. The black nylon body bag was hauled up on the truck, three scoops of ice cream for lunch, and the tourist season was officially open.

But now it was February and the season was almost over, and soon La Calima would come, and then the air traffic would halt, and the tourists would disappear, at least those that had read about the island before they came, and knew this was not the right time to stay. At this time of year few people came, and most people left. The same way the tide retracted, the tourists flew home, flew north, to their lebkuchen and grading of grammar papers, to their staff meetings and laundry days.      

But the locals were still here. Hercules and his Wrangler Jeep. And the mute, ethereal Finca-residents were still here; those that pilgrimed into Puerto Alto from their peaceful communal dwelling once a week, with cash tucked away in their linen skirt-pants. Taking a break from their Kundalini kriyas to supply their sprouted chickpea diets with ethically curated items from the supermercado—followed by the occasional lactose and caffeine indulgence at Yael’s (horrible cramps, diarrhea, nightmares—an angry, coiling snake in the base of the anus). And those that had left society for an indefinite amount of time was still here. Those that seemed to live of nothing, (in caves, on the beach), but still had their cell-phone charging for free at the Peculiar Art Café. So that they had enough juice to call home, to ask for a small money transfer from time to time, whenever shit hit the fan. Home, to Germany or Belgium, or Denmark. Los sesenta y ochos, the locals called them. Los salvajes. The 1968’ers, the feral ones—despising the charter tourists on the other islands with their package deal vacation, yet traveling on low-cost airline-fares themselves. And their ever so faithful dogs were still here. Drifting off to sleep in a shady place—amused by ravenous, carnivory dreams.


They call us the feral ones. Los Salvajes. Drumming to the beat of barking black dogs. We have ejected ourselves with no parachute—from Germany, Spain, Denmark, Argentina. We dive into dumpsters for cruelty-free treats. We are nihilistic nomads, foraging for kicks. We do not want to fight with the local police. We want to sit at the beach and stare at the moon. The moon is full of feelings. It collects all our dreams. It wells up inside like a warm, salty teardrop—it moves the ocean. It transforms the world.

Near Nouadhibou airport, Mauritania. Fine grains of iron-red sand swirled up from the rocks and sandbanks, creating a cakey substance of debris and particles. The thick, heavy smog hovered above the ground before continuing north, riding the southeastern winds. Vacuuming up whatever came in her way; iridescent beetles, bar-tailed larks, oil refinery residue, plastic pebbles, lost thoughts. A tangled nest for the world’s loose ends, huffed and puffed on by the storms of Sahara. A maroon, sultry cloud—La Calima, little sister of Sirocco.

The iron-red, ectoplasmic substance oozed in over the archipelago, over the Araguyan island, drifting on top of Cerro Grande. She moved with jagged, impulsive speed – fast like a peregrine falcon, then slow and content like a midday yawn. The morph-like heavy cloud began to descend the hill, towards the bottom of the valley. Behind, more clouds came. Clammy, oppressive. Clinging together to form a massive fleet of red, heavy dust—moving down the mountainside, onto the Valley of Gold.  

La Calima meandered like a fat red snake, through the little streets and narrow pathways. Slow moving and determined, swallowing whatever came in her way. In every crevice, on every window sill, on every eyelid, a thick red film of dust gathered. No visibility, no clarity, no horizon, no future, no past, no language. Just a buzzing, cacophony—a low, distorted hymn.


ICH EK I CALIMA                         ich EK i calima

                        ek WIND spirit

ek carry oil refinery dust              and fluttering LOCUST wings    
and iridescent plastic                                      STUFF

         EK huff            EK puff          EK BLOW your casa POOF!

ek cloud exchange for HONEY LAND    
ek carcass on cementerio head               
          beep-el-li-beep                   and there goes the body bag                
          beep-el-li-beep                   three ice cream SCOOPS

                                        oops buried flapper wrangler jeep                                       
                                        danger! orange skies danger! blood rain

airborne                                   dust, dust, dust                

ha! choking seizure     regurgitates ectoplasmic                                       
                                                    BABY milk

                                        Here! Sun holder of the Maker World

Ek thank you great DESERT
Ek thank you RED owl

                                         for this here multicolor MOON                                          
                                         for this here telenovela

And for this here THIEIDE lung. Mashuhshhhhh



it won’t help closing the curtains      
filling the cracks under the door
with toilet paper                                                    

    ding-ding-ding                                          closing the eyes                                                                                
                                                                                       closing the mouth


                                                                    & the night comes too slow                                                    
                                                                    & the mouth drinks to fast                                                     
                                                                    & the fan stops working                                                      
                                                                    & the toilets are overflowing

head under pillow 
eyes under pillow                        suffocated thoughts under pillow
the wind is stuffed with broken words                                                                
                                                           tattle tales in every crack


what comes after you  ATLANTIS                                             
                                             what comes after you LANGUAGE
after plastic tangled DOLPHIN

                                               after CLOUD circuit breakdown                                              
                                               after news FEED breakdown

                            after feral cat                                      
                                       eats RAINBOW?

Siri Katinka Valdez is a writer from Oslo, Norway. Siri is the co-founder of the small press and ritualistic writing collective, Blomster & Bureau / Flowers & a Funeral Home. In addition to various shorter publications, Siri has published an autobiographical short story collection named Det ble Bud / Landed on a Budweiser (Gyldendal, 2012), as well as Snille Djevel befri meg / Kind Devil Deliver me (Blomster & Bureau, 2019), a translation and homage to the forgotten Canadian-American writer Mary MacLane. Recently, Siri has also co-created the audiowalk Sans for Finans / Money & Magic (Echoes, 2022), a work about money systems, debt creation and magical thinking.  

Desperate Literature is an international bookshop in the heart of Madrid, founded in 2014. They sell books in English, French and Spanish, working to build a literary community around and through these literatures. They run weekly events with authors from around the world, and in 2019 hosted Spain’s first English language poetry festival. They first launched the Desperate Literature Prize for Short Fiction in 2017. The Prize is an international attempt to recognise writers of innovative and experimental short fiction, with the aim of providing opportunities to all those shortlisted through a publishing and events programme that partners with 14 different literary organisations across Europe.

The 2023 edition of the prize was judged by authors Mariana Enríquez, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Tiffany Tsao, and managed by Lara Alonso Conora, Bárbara Bianchi Ceballos, Terry Craven, Charlotte Delattre, Robert Greer, Vesna Maric, Kate McCully, Silver Sharma, and Emily Westmoreland.

A pamphlet containing Valdez’s work, alongside all other shortlisted stories from the 2023 edition of the prize, is published by Desperate Literature, and can be purchased here.

︎︎︎    Back to Rehearsal

Were a wind to rise
I could put up a sail
Were there no sail
I’d make one of canvas and sticks

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Motto’
(Bucknow Elegies)


Tenement Press, MMXXIV