When There Were Ghosts
By Alberto Ríos
On the Mexico side in the 1950s and 60s,
There were movie houses everywhere
And for the longest time people could smoke
As they pleased in the comfort of the theaters.
The smoke rose and the movie told itself
On the screen and in the air both,
The projection caught a little
In the wavering mist of the cigarettes.
In this way, every story was two stories
And every character lived near its ghost.
Looking up we knew what would happen next
Before it did, as if it the movie were dreaming
Itself, and we were part of it, part of the plot
Itself, and not just the audience.
And in that dream the actors’ faces bent
A little, hard to make out exactly in the smoke,
So that María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz
Looked a little like my aunt and one of my uncles–
And so they were, and so were we all in the movies,
Which is how I remember it: Popcorn in hand,
Smoke in the air, gum on the floor–
Those Saturday nights, we ourselves
Were the story and the stuff and the stars.
We ourselves were alive in the dance of the dream.
(Ed. Note: Alberto Rios is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Poet Laureate of Arizona, and was born in Nogales, AZ.)
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