You are hereJohn Ross Returns to Humboldt County Wearing Shoes With Wings

John Ross Returns to Humboldt County Wearing Shoes With Wings

     carry me to the boneyard
     with a bounce!       — Bebop Funeral

I picked him up on 23rd near Capp, in the Mission. He could barely make it down the stairs. His suitcase probably weighed more than he did. It was like lifting the weight of the world.

We’d made the trip a hundred and one times. The highway remembered our names and smoothed the way for our wheels. We’d left some of our best poems along this road.

When we stopped for coffee in Healdsburg I could see he was mostly bones, mostly not even his. They were the bones he’d been writing about all these years. The bones of the missing. The gone. And like I was feeling, the almost gone.

There wasn’t that much of him to bring home. The bones of the missing are weightless. His liver had mostly vanished. One eye looking in instead of out. I think his heart was in the suitcase. He had some marijuana cookies for pain and we split one.

We stopped for lunch in Willits, where we’d both been stranded before. At the Mexican restaurant he talked to the young waitress about where she was from, where he was going next. Where he’d been all these years.

The leaves were turning in the upper reaches of the Eel. Oak, and here and there a maple. We talked about the Day of the Dead. Said we were the ghosts of old poets. He planned to dress up as the organ that was killing him.

He could have gone as anything. In the October light I could almost see through him.

He’d been a ghost for a long time. When I met him he was already the ghost of the Rosenbergs, the ghost of John Coltrane, of Che, Joe Hill, Emiliano Zapata, the Lincoln Brigade, and a guy named Blackie.

For years he flew in custom-made winged tennis shoes, bodiless, up and down our streets and along our country roads. But no matter where he left it, every morning his body would show up at his typewriter.

He read poems and declarations of love and intransigence in every possible venue. He read to demonstrations and rallies and sports mobs. He read to vast solitudes. He read to bulldozers and nukes. To children and animals and trees. Once he read to a fire and nearly burned down our town.

Because of his ghostly condition he was eligible for material assistance. But just when he’d come back to himself he’d have to disincorporate in order to be re-certified and his friend and editor Sid would collect the fragments and drive them to Eureka to be interviewed.

He’s gone alright, they’d say and Sid would take the pieces back to wherever the typewriter was and they’d have a big editorial fight about whatever he was writing for the Daily Planet.

Of course his readers were mostly ghosts. Our town was an experiment in how thin you could spread yourself and still be visible. Like a lot of us he finally had to stop taking the ghost pills and start living in his body and of course then he had to leave town.

He toured the world’s coastlines. Stormed its barricades. Wrote the planet’s news and published books that revealed where most of the bones of the Americas are buried. He’d come back in the fall and it was always good to see him and sometimes we’d read poetry again.

I dropped him off at Sid’s. Dragged in the suitcase with the heavy heart. Said goodby like we had before at one or another end of the road. I knew he’d be back. Re-certified, he would fly again. To Mexico, and again return. As ectoplasm, he’d come home. As ashes, bounce back.

He comes back as the news. As a tenor saxophone. As show business. As the missing. As their votes. As a revolution. A clenched fist. A busted head. A suitcase. Blackie’s jacket. Shoes with wings.

He comes back as dreams. As a voice. As the things the dead don’t forget. As what you’re hearing now.

         Jerry Martien