Joseph Ross

Three Poems

When the Country

When the country of your lips
presses the revolution

of mine, a nation rises,
a whole people stand

in silence, singing
the anthem of hands,

of fingers searching the skin
for a truth, seeking a law

that requires disobedience.

When every rule of tongue
and court crumble,

when every empire of sweat
falls and dissolves

before the simplest
touch, we will have built

the purest country,
another country:

a republic of breath.


Who Will Remember?

Who will remember
us, once one of us

is gone?

The sun collapses
below the horizon

every day.

No one can tell
one man from another.

No one

can tell that the man
who remains

was once

wild with love
for another.

He looks

like one more struggle,
like one breathing.

The sun

disappears every day.
One day it will not



“Zella Ziona Who Was Also Known as”

from The Washington Post, October 17, 2015
in memory of Zella Ziona, Transgender 21 year-old, murdered October 15, 2015

Because the reasons
he shot you in an alley

are not reasons. Because
he thinks you embarrassed him

in front of men.
Because these men speak

a language unknown
in your shifting world.

Because “also known as”
is a funeral in America.

Because “gunshot wounds
to the head and groin”

speak clearly a language
some men know.

Because when a Black girl
is called a Black boy

by a maternity nurse,
the language dissolves again,

the name crumbles and a soul
must wait to emerge.

Because she might be born again,
not of Jesus but of herself.

Because you took your own name,
baptized in your own language,

named for a saint only you pray to.
Because your saint does not

stop bullets just because
you are beautiful.


Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry: Ache (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017), Gospel of Dust (Main Street Rag, 2013), Meeting Bone Man (Main Street Rag, 2012). He is co-editor of the anthology Cut Loose The Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib Painting (DC Poets Against the War/American University, 2007), and founded and directed the Writing Center at Archbishop Carroll High School. Ross teaches English and Creative Writing at Gonzaga College High School. His poems have appeared in the anthologies Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion and Spirituality; Come Together: Imagine Peace; Poetic Voices Without Borders, and Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC. He has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations and won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. He served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in Howard County, MD. His website: To read more by this author: Joseph Ross: Evolving City Issue Joseph Ross: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue Joseph Ross: Floricanto Issue