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, compañeros,
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