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About this Poem 

"I’ve taught a course on magical realism since the seventies, and when people hear this they often talk immediately about ghosts. They want to talk about 'magical,' while I try to point to the noun 'realism.' But this made me think: Can ghosts and realism be reconciled outside a literary moment? Yes, I realized, drawing on my own life. Yes and easily."
—Alberto Ríos

When There Were Ghosts

Alberto Ríos, 1952

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.

Copyright © 2014 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 3, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Alberto Ríos

Alberto Ríos

Born in 1952, Alberto Ríos is the author of several collections of poetry and was the recipient of the 1981 Walt Whitman Award

by this poet

poem

I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—

The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.

It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s

poem
We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And
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Mr. Teodoro Luna in his later years had taken to kissing
His wife
Not so much with his lips as with his brows.
This is not to say he put his forehead
Against her mouth--
Rather, he would lift his eyebrows, once, quickly:
Not so vigorously he might be confused with the villain
Famous in the theaters, but not so