Gospel of Dust


poems by

Joseph Ross

Poetry book, 100 pages, $15 cover price

($12.50 if ordered from the MSR Online Bookstore)

ISBN: 978-1-59948-423-5

Released: June 12, 2013



Joseph Ross

Joseph Ross’ first collection of poems, Meeting Bone Man, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing in 2012. His poems appear in many anthologies includingCollective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion and Spirituality, Come Together: Imagine Peace, and Full Moon on K Street. His poems also appear in many journals including Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Little Patuxent Review,Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. He has read at the Library of Congress, been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize, and won the 2012 Pratt Library-Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. An early member of DC Poets Against the War, he co-edited Cut Loose The Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib. He teaches English at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC and writes at


Not too many people are residing on the same floor with Joe Ross when it comes to writing about race. His poetry is what we should place in the window of the World House that King spoke about in his last book. The words of Ross demand a sacred place. His poems honor the dead and instruct the living. There is an amazing grace to be found in Gospel of Dust. This book is a rosary of pages for all believers.

–E. Ethelbert Miller
Director, African American Resource Center
Howard University



Exploring the human condition with relentless intensity, Joseph Ross returns to the pages of literature with an expertly crafted second collection, Gospel of Dust. These poems are representative of what society’s’ failures produce, a threnody of sound for the oppressed and those underneath life and literature; they’re the shedding of skin color, of social constructions that bind us to a way of seeing. Listen to this choir box solo as Gospel of Dust fills you with the poetic spirit we call language.

–Randall Horton
Author of Pitch Dark Anarchy



In these poems, we peek into the empty human church at night, breath caught, eyes that usually burn, suddenly awash in tears. Gospel of Dust sets afire a memento mori for America — remember you are dust, O Empire. But, as with all burnt offerings, in Joseph Ross’ poems something is also rising. We are offered again the stark choice: ashes or bread? This is some of the best poetry you are likely to read anywhere.

–Rose Marie Berger
Poetry Editor, Sojourners magazine


For Her, Sitting
for Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

For her, sitting became
a sacrament, the act

made holy by being
itself. The refusal, the

straightening of the lips
to clarify there is no

humor here, no one is
playing with anyone.

The re-folding of her hands,
kitchen-smooth, battle-ready.

The deployment of her
purse further into her lap.

The sedition of settling
back into the bus seat

a bit deeper because she
has arrived at her destination.

The looking into the eye
of the bus driver, then

the police, and the looking
away, giving voice to a

a magnificent claim
to here, to this patch of seat,

to singing a resounding
yes, that means no.



American Pieta
On John Filo’s iconic photograph of Mary Vecchio kneeling beside Jeffrey Miller, killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

She has been mourning
for forty years.

Mary Vecchio still smells
the acid anger of the gunshots,

still hears students screaming
like slaps of shock,

still kisses the ground,
wanting to bury herself,

pressing her body low into
the college sidewalk

hoping the National Guard’s
bullets need more altitude

than she does on that day when
the protest became the war.

But she sees
her friend, Jeffrey Miller,

lying flat, face down,
arms at his side,

in a spreading pool
of his own bleeding country.

Mindful that bullets
sometimes become seeds,

she blooms into sorrow.
Her priestly arms rise

and open in horror, in rage,
in a question

only America can answer.


Luke 1:46

Not the bowed Mary
of obedient veils

but the Mary of army fatigues,
in the rebellious hills,

laughing with bits
of revolution in her teeth.

She is certain
that the powerful are plunged

into a river they did not see,
that the slave smiles

at dusk planning
a midnight escape.

Who is this panting woman
with cupped hands

filled with bullets
not blessings,

singing her manifesto,
wiping her mouth

with the back
of her hand?


If J. Alfred Prufrock Was A Priest: Baptism


He gathers at the font
with babies and believers,

naked and waiting to be
rinsed in the water.

He looks at the placid basin
and sees it begin

to storm and seethe.
This water does not want

to be poured. It rises
and crashes, a hurricane

in the marble baptismal font
of a desert church.

The mermaid choir sings
a melody like water

filling the ears.
It drowns out the words

of the ritual, so his arm
becomes a snake,

offering each baby a peach
and a way out of the garden.

If you would like to read more of Gospel of Dust by Joseph Ross, order your copy today.

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