Early in our days in Sonora
I went with my husband to a field camp
by jeep. Then bony backed mules.
The eight Mexicans there were shy as
we said Buenos días to each other.
Next morning they answered my Buenos días
with Buenos días le dé Dios.
It became like that.
I stayed in camp all day.
They went out to hammer rocks in
country known as baranca –
place of broken boulders.

My husband and I slept that night
in the small cook shack cabin.
The Mexicans in sleeping bags
circled close round the fire.
Next morning fear was in the camp.

Talk was in rapid nervous Spanish.
We heard gato – cat and pero – dog
and a word we did not know — Onca.
The Mexicans said I must not be left alone.
Our Spanish was not good
in those early days in Mexico.
We thought gato would be a lynx.

That night the Mexicans stayed up late talking.
In the morning the second dog was gone.
In spite of anxious warnings from the Mexicans
I stayed in camp reading by the river.
After lunch — to the relief of the Mexicans –
my husband and I went back to our town
by bony backed mules and jeep.

Years later– in Arizona
at Tucson’s Desert Museum
we saw a sign saying Onca
and turned a corner towards it.
Suddenly we were face to face
with a brown, black and gold Painted Jaguar
huge and confident looking.
I felt my full foolishness.

The Mexicans in that long ago camp
had been good men who wanted me safe —
in spite of my arrogance
my ignorance and lack of good sense.

After that incident
all the time I lived in that region—
teaching at the convent school
buying chickens in the market
making friends with Mexicans
adopting a street dog
feeding carrots to burros
through the bars on my windows–
I had a reputation
for a kind of bravery.
But It was really about my luck –
that I was prayed for and protected.

As for me now, I am thankful
for those men and their prayers.

Christina Watkins
(Revised January 2020)