John Ross: Nor Hanged Nor Shot Nor Burned Alive

John Ross, 1938-2011, was a journalist, poet, elder statesman and first rate maverick. His memorial ceremony in San Francisco was a celebration of art and resistance. For the event, I wrote this poem, and read it amidst the madness for John on February 26 of this year, at Cafe La Boheme, a Mission District landmark.

Nor Hanged Nor Shot Nor Burned Alive

For John Ross

Nor hanged nor

shot nor burned alive

blinded, yes, by half

by a cop’s routine baton

and sightless rage,

by the cocktail brain

and the antiseptic hands

blinded, but barely

by half, old John

took aim, had a smoke

had a surgical smoke,

and saw again,

and again and again

he saw, nor silenced nor

stumped nor made to

move aside, pinche viejo.


Who killed old John?

Not the Nobel Prize

with its clean fingernails

and taught ancient rubbery

skin; not the million killing mass

destruction hydrogen

bomb cruise missile depleted

uranium; not the gray eminence

of Einstein, nor the pulped gloss

of Time Magazine; not

the sonofabitch in

the Brooks Brothers

Suit, tampoco the federales,

tampoco the Bart

Police, tampoco the Law

with its leathery wings and

its diseased inhuman claws.


The earth is all sugar

in the morning,

sunlight in the arcades as

bright as jazz, candied, riper

than an egg. But such

sugar turns to dust in the

eyes, dust of the powerful

great world, where begins

eternity, the dirty streets

and small places of the living.

The moon comes down,

its khafiya drawn down tight,

its cactus spines and tender

thorns of light, for being light

none the less impossible to bear.


Still falls the rain.

Still fall the ragged bodies there.


Who killed old John?

Not the warning signs

of industrial collapse,

nor the smokestack,

nor the smoking gun;

neither the artificial

heart nor the synthetic

bleat of battle drones.

Who killed Socrates?

Who killed Galileo?

Who killed Brecht?

Not the Brooks Brothers

suit nor the blinded cop’s

baton, not the air traffic

controller nor the highway

robber, nor the great Lie

of civilization.


killed him.

Nobody killed


Because nobody killed


Nobody did.

Because nobody killed him.

He died

but nobody killed him.


Nobody did.

Nobody killed


Nobody did.


jc. : 2.26.2011

Published by Jeff Conant

Writer, social and ecological justice advocate, world traveler, family-man, gardener, bee-keeper, baker & tender of life in all her fine forms. Here on The Watering Hole you will find my books, both published, unpublished and in progress, my photographs and artwork, and my short (and long) essays and ruminations here in the late stages of the anthropocene as humanity struggles to turn away from millenia of destruction toward a future of co-existence with all creation…or not.

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