Ray Gonzalez is the author of ten books of poetry, two collections of short stories, and three collections of short essays. For a time he also published the work of other poets under the moniker “Mesilla Press.” Raised in El Paso, Texas, much of his work draws from his Mexican ancestry, as well as his memories of growing up in the American southwest. Gonzalez is a professor in the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota. His most recent book of poetry Faith Run, is a finalist for the 2010 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry, an award he’s won twice before. Here’s a poem from that collection, which
places finds a Minnesota music legend in the heart of Gonzalez’ old haunting ground.
Bob Dylan in El Paso, 1963
Bob Dylan passed through my hometown
to cross into Juárez, Mexico.
He used the Stanton Street Bridge that
arched over the river and led to the red lights.
When he sang, “They got some hungry
women there, and they’ll really make a mess
out of you,” my buddies and I knew the place,
the high school ritual of having to go there
to find Dylan and his shadow going upstairs.
Dylan must have had breakfast somewhere
in El Paso, because you could never cross
without a good set of huevos and tortillas
churning inside you, ready to explode in
the sunrise colors of a frontier dream.
Dylan sang, “When you’re lost in the rain
in Juárez and it’s Easter time, too,”
and I searched for the mission where
he might have knelt and prayed, entered
to find statues of saints, draped in dark
colors like a waiting concert stage.
It didn’t matter that he was Jewish, because
all men going into the Juárez night
have to kneel and pray sometime.
Dylan sang, “I started out on burgundy,
but soon hit the harder stuff,” and
I bought a bottle of mescal in Juárez
for him, the worm at the bottom of
the round jar still there after 45 years,
the black liquid churning dreams Dylan
had when he entered The Cave, the name
of the legendary cantina etched on
tamale leaves Dylan left on his plate.
Bob passed through my hometown
after he left Juárez.
His shadow is still there, appearing every
now and then in profile on the mountain
surrounding the town, the only El Pasoans
who know it is him growing fewer in number
because the silver raven has taken many of
them away, though there is a rumor
The Cave is still open for business,
the women waiting, the most popular
bedroom half paradise-half museum
because one of the dirty adobe walls has
writing in faded lipstick that says,
“Zimmerman was here.”
– “Bob Dylan in El Paso, 1963” by Ray Gonzalez, as it appears in his collection of poems Faith Run. Reprinted here with permission from The University of Arizona Press.