Tuesday, January 18, 2011

John Ross Rebel Journalist 1938-2011

JOHN ROSS 1938-2011

   Journalist, investigative poet, and social activist John Ross died peacefully today at Lake Patzcuaro in Mexico, where he had lived on and off for the past fifty years. He was 72. The cause was liver cancer.
            A young generation Beat poet and the national award-winning author of ten books of fiction and nonfiction, and nine chapbooks of poetry, Ross received the American Book Award (1995) for Rebellion from the Roots: Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, and the coveted Upton Sinclair Award (2005) for Murdered By Capitalism: 150 Years of Life and Death on the American Left. The first journalist to bring news of the indigenous Mexican Zapatista revolution to English-speaking readers, Ross was widely regarded as a “voice for those without a voice,” who stood with the poor and oppressed in his brilliantly stylized writing, suffering beatings and arrests during many nonviolent protests.
            An iconoclast who took every chance to afflict the comfortable and educate the public, Ross turned down honors from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2009, which had praised him for telling “stories nobody else could or would tell,” and as an organizer for tenants’ rights. In the chamber, Ross recalled an appearance before the Board forty years before when he was dragged from the same room for disturbing the peace. He blamed an “attack” by the San Francisco Police Department for the loss of his left eye. Ross told the Board, “Death was on our plate” when he went to Baghdad as a human shield during U.S. bombing, and again, when he was beaten by Israeli settlers alongside Palestinian olive farmers.
            “Life, like reporting, is a kind of death sentence,” he said. “Pardon me for having lived it so fully.”
            Born in New York City, Ross grew up amidst the pre-Civil Rights era folk and jazz scene, influenced at an early age by the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach and legendary sports figures like the Harlem Globetrotters. He is survived by his sister, artist Susan Gardner; his children, Dante Ross and Carla Ross-Allen; and one grandchild, Zoe Ross-Allen’.
            In addition to his popular accounts of Mexican life and politics, chronicled in the series “Mexico Barbaro” and “Blindman’s Buff,,” John Ross reported for the San Francisco Examiner, CounterPunch, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Pacific News Service, Pacifica Radio, LA Weekly, Noticias Aliadas, La Jornada, Sierra Magazine and many other print and radio organizations. In 2010, under treatment for liver cancer, he toured nationally with El Monstruo: True Tales of Dread & Redemption in Mexico City, already a cult classic, using a hand-held magnifying glass to read his words before packed audiences.
            One of the earliest resisters to the Vietnam War, Ross spent two and a half years as a prisoner of conscience in a federal penitentiary for refusing the draft. On release, he recounts in a poem, when a prison authority walked him to the door,
Ross he told me with a look of disgust
written all over his smarmy mush,
you never learned
how to be a prisoner.
       Memorial services in San Francisco, Mexico City, Humboldt County and New York City will be announced at a later date.

---Elizabeth Bell, Sandina Robbins, Mary Jo McConahay
---Photo by Marcia Perskie

Saturday, January 15, 2011

For John Ross by John Ross


   Three a.m. 
  They said I should not come to the lake.  He won't recognize you, they said.  
  From the bookshelf, I take down not Murder by Capitalism, or the classic Mexico reporting books, but poetry chapbooks he has given me over the years.  I look at Against Amnesia, and open it at random -- I swear -- to this page.


It was twice my 30th year to heaven
and the bonfires of the critics
were already crackling
with the remaindered corpses of my life work.
There will be no memoirs.
I am trying to forget
all that I have been forced to remember
and remember only what
I have forgotten in the falling:
the small hands of my children
tucked inside mine,
who took the final shot
in the NBA western finals 1975-76,
the tears of joy I shed after Magic
hit 42 to win the 1980-81 championship,
the soft curdled breath of my lovers
while they slept...

How on earth have I reached this great age
without a season's ticket to my name?
Fact: me and my old friend QR Hand
have been watching b-ball together
for the past 1,657 years.
Methuselah only watched for 900.
Fact: in this blizzard of centuries,
we have grown older
than Satchel Page, George Blanda,
Robert Parrish, Phil Nikro, Archie Moore
and Jersey Joe Walcott laid out end to end.

Once upon a time,
when I was just an angel child
lo these many light years ago,
I took Baby Dodds' drumsticks
to my lips and kissed them on the tips,
the ones that back up Louie Armstrong
and the Hot Five all the way to the Royal Garden,
the south side of Chicago, 1919.
Now I've grown quite as old
as those sticks -- but you know,
the drummer has never stopped flailing,
the tenor player has never stopped wailing,
the freedom songs of Trane, Miles, Monk and Bird
have never prophesied more

When I was a young fool of a buck
and what I said was what I did
they locked me up in jail because
the Vietnamitas
were not my enemies.
The deeper they buried me
in that terminal penitentiary,
the freer I became
and the day the prison gates flew open,
the P.O. walked me to the door.
Ross he told me with a look of disgust
written all over his smarmy mush,
you never learned
how to be a prisoner.

Put that on my tombstone, chump!
chisel it in deep in the block and stack it up in
the Trinidad town cemetery
right next to my old comrade
"Murdered By Capitalism"
E.B. Schnaubelt.
It's the epitaph I signed on for --
but one caution, compaƱeros,
don't put me down under that stone,
oh no, better you should bury my bones
far away in an unmarked hole
because I always need to stay
at least two addresses
ahead of the government.

                              santa cruz calif/april/1998