Joseph Ross

Praise Song / Sorrow Song: DEMZ

for Delbert Gutierrez, a 21 year-old graffiti artist
killed by police in Miami Beach on August 6, 2014.
His graffiti tag was DEMZ


Praise to a warm December night, 

stars and palm trees dreaming.

Praise to the words you 

dreamed of painting.


Praise to the gravel beneath

the unmarked police car.


Praise to you running, your

quick moves through the alley.


Praise to alleys.


Praise to the police car’s tires

hissing around corners.


Praise to the dark clothing 

you wore that night.


Praise to your shock as the front bumper

tore your legs.


Praise to the surprise at being

struck by so much weight.


Praise to collapsing, your arms’

and legs’ betrayal. 


Praise to betrayal.


Praise to the metal and pavement

as they open your head.


Praise to the darkness that leaks

from your eyes.


Praise to your eyes.


Sorrow to the night your mother grieved

beside your hospital bed.


Sorrow to not knowing

she was there.


Sorrow to her fingers laced

through yours.


Sorrow to the police official who told her

you shouldn’t have run.


Sorrow for the dinner he offered

to buy her.


Sorrow for her fury.


Sorrow for all the December nights

you survived.


Sorrow that this one

was different.


March 24, 1980

for Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador


The cup you raised

was round, not unlike


a bullet. It widened 

like a wound does. It held


the swirling of the people

but it could not contain 


it. The cup held a wine not

served at fine meals. This


wine knew garbage dumps,

El Mozote, Santiago de Maria, 


places no bishop would ever see.

You took the poor into


your arms, encircling them

with a cathedral’s protection,


radio sermons to help them

bury the ones who died


before you would.

One day ago, you ordered


soldiers to see their country,

to disobey any who ordered


them to close their eyes and

kill their own. “Stop” you


demanded, the swelling circle of

of a bleeding land.


And so today in a hospital

chapel, a few nuns, tired


nurses who’d read

the treasonous gospel.


The story of a cathedral

unfinished as its people.


The story of a bishop 

firm as his altar.


The story of a cup

dangerous as its last


supper, a banquet 

of bullets for the Savior’s

country to taste.

Joseph Ross is the author of two books of poetry: Gospel of Dust (2013) and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poems appear in many places including, The Los Angeles Times, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Drumvoices Revue. He has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations and won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. He recently served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in Howard County, Maryland. He teaches English and Creative Writing at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. and writes regularly at


Posted on July 24, 2015 .