I WAS A BOY. It was a Saturday.
At the top of a fine hill’s rise in the high desert,
In the yellow-blossoming creosote and gray-green brush,
There was a picnic, a civic event intended to be festive,
The kind the ’50s invented, something right, the right thing to do,
Something new, something to feel something again After the War.
Here, it was people taking themselves out of regular downtown buildings
To make fires in pits, for barbacoa, the gift of a pig roasted for days,
And which people talked about for weeks,
And which I have remembered for years.
My parents took me and my brother to this hotel for movie stars
To eat the dripping barbacoa and hot tortillas on the outskirts of Nogales.
The hotel was in the rolling horse-country north hills,
Not close enough to be walking distance,
So the thrill was that one had to arrive at this hotel in a car—
Or a horse—or a car that made somebody feel like they were on a horse,
All muscle and sweat, whoever it was stepping out stringy haired and uncertain,
Feeling something between all right and pretty good.
This town was still in between in all things, with cars that ran on four legs,
Cars that didn’t care so much about glass in their windows.
The hotel was called El Esplendor, though later because of a movie
They called it the Rancho Grande. In those names,
It was a place and a feeling both. Movie stars liked the entryway,
The blue-and-black tiled fountain edged with a rim of trailing green rot.
Movie stars liked it and so did I, this cooling great room, this sea bottom
On top of the desert. The sound of the fountain changed this place.
This particular morning, we walked outside, all of us,
To the edge of the hill this place sat on,
To the great edge of the whole of the wandering Santa Cruz valley,
A view that would find its way into movies, the imagination
Struck by the imagination.
John Wayne was there. Maybe not today, but often enough.
The day was warm. There were movie stars everywhere.
I stood with one foot up on a rock. My hands were on my hips.
My new jeans fit as if they were made for me, made for me
Right at that moment, not too long, too short, too tight, too big.
As I surveyed the valley, took its measure with my ten-year-old eye,
Breathed its space into me, into my lungs and arms and heart,
I felt as great as I ever had, as perfect and hungry as I ever would.
It was a Saturday, and every Saturday since.
© Alberto Ríos