Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Send-Off

     Three hundred souls in a second-floor church under shafts of shifting colored lights from stained glass windows. Underneath on the first floor lunch being served to those who had no place else to eat, several of whom knew John and cared for him and climbed the two flights when their bellies were full.  Outside it was the coldest day of the year in the Mission District that was Ross's half-home, the other half being the heart of Mexico City where everybody knew el viejo.  Sadness was so deep there was more laughter than tears, stories of the man's brashness, his in-your-face insistence on the truth as he saw it, no quarter given to the hypocrite, no matter rank or station. Of the young Beat days. How he went to Mexico too but stayed when the others left. There were things you'd forgotten: how John was the first man in the country to go to jail (almost two years) for refusing the Vietnam draft. Things you didn't know: John had two grown kids, son and daughter, estranged for years then grown close explaining their love with the intimacy and soaring that showed those apples didn't fall far from the tree.
   And there were things you thought about that you wondered whether other people knew: that John had a son who was not there, who died as an infant because a doctor couldn't be found in the Indian village where early early early death was unremarkable, except of course to those who loved the small, fresh dead, over which a father could cry in a cafe in Palenque sixty years after the fact.
   No hymns, but good music, Spanish and English.  And the flock getting to its feet and standing many with right arms raised in a fist everybody singing the walls of that church ringing with the Internationale.  His request.
   Afterward a jazz procession through the streets of the Mission with the band leading the way and staying to play outside the Cafe La Boheme as mourners and the curious and street people packed the place to listen to each other's poetry, no-host bar, catering on unsteady paper plates by the cafe.
     Next door at the Nicaraguan Salvadoran hole in the wall with great pupusas a bunch of us sat around telling John stories and one of his basketball buddies remembered John took buses in Peru and described the rolled-up pant legs of the young hired men, his fellow passengers, suppurating sores redness and rashes on their legs where they smashed the coca leaves, the lowest human rung on the drug commerce ladder that led to dorm rooms and swank parties in the United States.  "Think about that the next time you cop some blow," was the last line of the story he wrote.  Imagine.  What a great journalist he was.  Chicken's eye view, all right, two feet from the ground, voicing for those without one, noticing, writing every day of his life.

And blogs (God how he'd hate the word) are supposed to be short mine I know are more slog but I can't leave it without giving you Kevin's poem he wrote the day after John died in his house because if you read this far you will want to read it. 

Dawn without john

There is no long hand attached to that sassafras cane
There is no bulging yellow eyeball behind that magnifying glass reading la jornada
That toothless mouth is not sucking on a joint.

There is no black pen cradled in the other hand ready to write
That fine fine brain can´t remember the history of mexico
Those new York ears can´t hear Coltrane or parker

My youngest daughter gabriela won´t be receiving a birthday present from her beloved godfather or dogfather as he liked to say.
And zoe won´t be skyping with her abuelo tonight.

The apple trees are still blooming
The sun rose again and the moon is full
Our neighbor is threshing his harvest of wheat
And the roosters are crowing

48 hours ago I held you in my arms as you struggled and fought:
And then for the first time in your life you surrendered, gave in,
And took your last breath with the rising sun.

24 hours ago as the day dawned we cried  and arminda and the saxophone of Oscar el vampiro; street musician from mexico city;  wailed over your cold lifeless body ,and in one last act of defiance, Oscar and I smoked a joint of the humboldt grass you smuggled into mexico , making it doubly illegal and especially irreverent, blew the smoke over you, and stuck the roach in your mouth.

Before you were baked we placed a pen in your hand
Compadre, I saw that smile on your face as you went up in flames with a joint in your mouth and a pen in your hand. 
It took two hours to turn you into ashes.

This dawn I am alone with those ashes, the flowers, the candles and Coltrane.

The beret, the magnifying glass, the leather vest, the keffiyeh , and the sassafras cane   
are all wondering?


Kevin Quigley   Santiago Tzipijo   jan 19 2011