Minnesota Poetry: Ray Gonzalez’ “Bob Dylan in El Paso, 1963”

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.

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