Remembering John Ross

Great moments from the life of the poet, journalist, and unrepentant shit disturber


P>John Ross — poet, journalist, hell raiser, and iconic San Franciscan — died Jan. 16 of liver cancer, on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro in Mexico. He had been writing for the Guardian fairly consistently since 1982, for the last 25 years as our Mexico City correspondent.

I wrote a fairly lengthy obituary for him that's posted on the politics blog at There are so many stories to tell about John that it's hard even to begin, but my favorite was his tale of the day he left Terminal Island, the federal prison near Los Angeles where he served more than two years for refusing the draft during the Vietnam War.

The warden saw him to the gates, he told me, and than shook his head and said, "Ross, you never learned how to be a prisoner."

And that was pretty much the story of his life. He lived every day in the spirit of freedom and social justice. He was beaten by the police in the streets of San Francisco and lost an eye. He went to Baghdad to stand in the way of the bombs when George W. Bush invaded. He dodged Gen. Augusto Pinochet's bullets in Chile. He was madly fearless and would go wherever the story was.

I wanted this page to be about his life, not his death, so I'm reprinting some of my favorite John Ross poems. They were all self-published, some in booklets photocopied and stapled together, some done at cut-rate printers, but none still available from anyone. They are all labeled "anti-copyright." I just hope my copies aren't the last ones on Earth.

There will be a memorial in San Francisco soon. I'll publish the details when I have them. you can also e-mail for updates.

P.S.: John, as I expected, left very specific instructions for his remains. I quote:

I ask that my body be rendered into ashes and the ashes distributed in the following locations: Trinidad, California, both flow from the bluffs and sprinkled atop the gravesite of my old comrade, E.B. Schnaubelt, a noted anarchist.

San Francisco, strewn along the Mission 14 route between 24th and 16th streets and deposited in the planter boxes outside the Café Bohème.

Mexico, some of my ashes can be dumped in the ashtrays outside the Hotel Isabel and on the sidewalk outside the Cafe la Blanca. A handful can be spread in the zócalo plaza. Other ashes can be spread at the Zapatista caracol in Oventik, on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro, and in the boneyard at Santa Cruz Tanaco, where my first-born, Tristram, is buried, both in Michoacán.

New York City, my place of birth: I ask that my ashes be strewn in Washington Square Park and other pertinent venues in the East and West Village in addition to Union Square. The remainder of my ashes should be rolled into marijuana cigarettes and smoked by participants in these scatterings. *



The big gray ships

They move so powerful slow

It almost seems We are not getting There.

This gives one hope.

(From At The Daily Planet, 1981)


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