Celebration of Life of Sr. Dianna Ortiz, OSU

Sister Dianna M. Ortiz, OSU (Sept. 2, 1958 – Feb. 19, 2021)

Vigil service. Funeral Mass. (More from the Ursuline sisters.)

I knew Sr. Dianna through her advocacy work and through regular gatherings for Mass at the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., where she lived for 25 years. I came to know her more closely during her fast for justice in the mid-1990s when I wrote an article with Julie Polter for Sojourners out of that experience.

In 2007, poet Joseph Ross and I organized a poetry reading and poetry anthology to accompany an exhibit of paintings by Colombian artist Botero in D.C. We were so grateful to Sr. Dianna for writing the forward to Cut Loose the Body: Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings. She wrote:

“To our feelings of betrayal, fear and isolation, must we also carry the insistent sense of hopelessness our torturers would force up on us? No, we need not. Oh no, we will not. We who have survived this crime against humanity have, indeed, learned to speak for ourselves and to be understood …”

As I reflect on Sr. Dianna’s life and death I keep thinking: Dianna is what resurrection looks like in public. She came out of the belly of death in Guatemala with her scars intact, and she dealt with her wounds every single day. Somehow, she turned her experiences of death into the power of resurrection that saved the lives of thousands of people. And through that slow process of resurrection she came to know a God called Mercy.

Forgive me and us Dianna for all the ways we hurt you and didn’t understand. We in turn “forgive” you for making us uncomfortable when you were bold enough to claim your healing in public. You are our saint of nonviolent witness. Presente!–Rose Marie Berger


John Kiriakou and ‘Cut Loose The Body’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2007 Joseph Ross and I edited a collection of poems titled Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib Paintings and hosted a reading when Botero’s collection was on display in  Washington, D.C.

That same year, CIA officer John Kiriakou became the first CIA official to publicly confirm and detail the agency’s use of waterboarding as well as other torture. In January 2013, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison in Pennsylvania. Kiriakou was recently released to house arrest. He’s now living in the D.C.-area and has made appearances at the Institute for Policy Studies at Dupont Circle.

This week my friend Sarah, who directs Split This Rock, a collective of poetry and protest with an office at IPS, related this story:

I met John Kiriakou at IPS on Friday … I told him about Split This Rock and gave him a copy of Cut Loose the Body. Here’s what he wrote me yesterday: “Thank you very much for Cut Loose the Body, which I read on the way home.  It was absolutely wonderful, and I hope there will be many more.  My wife also read it and said the poems were wonderful and the two Botero sketches were breathtaking.  Thanks again.”

It’s so gratifying to know that work done in good faith makes its way out into the world and finds the people it needs to find. Thank you Sarah — and thank you John for your service to your country. John Kiriakou, who is Greek Orthodox, spent his two-and-a-half years in prison serving in the chapel. And, in a total quirk of fate, the federal prison where Kiriakou spent his time was called FCI Loretto. It used to be a Catholic monastery. The Bureau of Prisons turned it into a “low-security prison” and converted the “monks’ bedrooms” into “prisoners’ rooms.”
Continue reading “John Kiriakou and ‘Cut Loose The Body’”

Berger and Ross: ‘We Thought the Word was Gone’


“We thought the word was gone. We thought we healed it out of our national vocabulary. We thought ‘torture’ belonged to a foreign language, spoken only by dictators, who ruled anywhere but here. We were wrong.”–Introduction to Cut Loose the Body, edited by Rose Marie Berger and Joseph Ross (2007)

The Torture Report

Joseph Ross: ‘Ferguson, Mo. Looking Like Money, Miss.’

MacyBlackLivesNot sure what to think about the Ferguson grand jury decision? Want to trust the justice system to work? Don’t understand why folks won’t just “let this go”?

Please read Joe Ross’ short excellent essay “Ferguson, Missouri Looking Like Money, Mississippi” excerpted below:

Yes, Ferguson, Missouri is looking a whole lot like Money, Mississippi. In 1955, two white men were charged, tried, and found not guilty in the murder of Emmett Till. Then they bragged about it to national magazines. Nothing could be done. The Mississippi “justice” system was built entirely in their favor. That’s how it’s looking in Ferguson today. The Washington Post reported this morning that Officer Darren Wilson was allowed to drive himself alone from the crime scene, wash blood off his hands at the police station, and enter his own gun into evidence. None of this should happen in a professional police department. But that’s the problem. Ferguson is not a professional police department. Apparently Officer Wilson and none of the other officers and detectives who arrived at the scene thought they were at a crime scene. They assumed. They knew. This is the picture of white privilege. And it’s an ugly picture.

With the report of this unprofessional and unethical behavior, no matter what one thought of the case, the very things we call “evidence” cannot be trusted. …

Read Joseph Ross’ whole essay here.

Joseph Ross: Nelson Mandela’s Legacy of Forgiveness & Reconciliation

Photo taken by Joseph Ross
Photo taken by Joseph Ross
“Nelson Mandela is a hero to me. Back in 1985, in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, I was part of the Anti-Apartheid Network, a student group opposed to South Africa’s policy of racial separation. We were part of the international movement, largely of college students, urging divestment from firms doing business in South Africa. Mandela himself, after becoming president, said the divestment movement played a key role in bringing down the apartheid government. At Notre Dame, we used to gather every Friday at noon on the Main Building’s steps. We learned about the week’s events in South Africa from Professor Peter Walshe, a South African teaching at Notre Dame. I also became friends with Rev. Malusi Mpumlwana, a South African Anglican priest studying at Notre Dame. Malusi developed my understanding of systemic violence in ways no book could have taught me. I learned a great deal from him over endless cups of coffee and loud laughter. We students were somewhat naive, but we brought a passion to the divestment cause. It was my first experience in such a political movement and I learned a great deal about my own responsibility for those who suffer around the world. The lessons I learned from Malusi and others in the Anti-Apartheid movement guide me still. …”–Joseph Ross

Read Joe’s whole blog post.

Joseph Ross: ‘Earth, Receive an Honored Guest’ – Seamus Heaney

JRossPoet and literature teacher Joseph Ross (Gospel of Dust and Meeting Bone Man) has written a lovely, graceful tribute to Seamus Heaney. He holds before us the broken bread of a broken heart in a world in which the word is breaking. But, as Heaney would remind, from which the phoenix rises.

Joseph Ross writes:

It is hard to know what to write today. Yesterday morning, at school, getting ready to discuss two of Anne Bradstreet’s poems with my American Literature students, I learned that Seamus Heaney had died. What I know today is this: my poetry heart is breaking.

And I am not alone. Irish Prime Minister, their Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said: “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people.” His death brings “…a great sorrow to Ireland.” Indeed. And not just to Ireland but to people who love poetry everywhere. Seamus Heaney was widely regarded as one of the finest poets of our time. No question. He was also considered a most humble and decent man. He was married, a father and a grandfather. His personal life was stable and not flashy.

He wrote of the Irish people who worked the land, the Irish people who suffered British oppression. He did this in such a way that honored the people, the land, and at times shamed the British. But he did not fall into a polemic. He refused to glorify the Irish Republican Army. He might have supported their goals but he opposed many of their methods. He resisted labeling sides as simply good vs. evil. He knew more complexity than that.

Read Joe Ross’ full essay.

Joseph Ross: The Necessary Truth of Deserts

“The Necessary Truth of Deserts” is a lovely short essay by Joseph Ross about Palm Canyon and Andreas Canyon in Southern California, which the Agua Caliente Band of California’s Cahuilla Indians offer as a place for hiking.

Joe, author of the amazing collection of poems Meeting Bone Man, has a clarion-clear voice for human mystery.

Here’s an excerpt from his essay:

While in the desert, you can see and feel the distinction between necessities and extras. You see your place in the world, our wonderful human smallness. The perspective the desert offers is brutal but real. We are small. We control very little. We are only part of a larger, sometimes cruelly connected web of life. In these things, the desert teaches us lessons nearly impossible to learn elsewhere. The desert’s lessons are inescapable while you are in it.

Interestingly, in the early years of Christianity, when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion, many Christians, certain that official acceptance would dilute the radicality of their faith, fled to the deserts around the Mediterranean where they sought to maintain a more pure form of Christianity. Because the desert allows for few flourishes and extras, the Desert Tradition kept Christianity’s basics alive in its monks and nuns: silence, simplicity, prayer, hospitality, love of neighbor.

There is an inevitability in deserts as well. In Joshua Tree National Park, huge and curious rock formations, which I loved to climb and explore, shot out from the desert floor. These wild rock formations jutted up out of the sand at angles that amazed me as a young boy. You could see too that the desert’s sand, was just a broken version of these huge rock formations. This was not the fine and drifting sand of an ancient desert. These huge rocks were always and slowly becoming the desert’s sand. One could say every stone’s future is a desert. Everything breaks down, including us, into a sort of desert.

I remember also, as a boy, my parents’ book called The Living Desert. I loved the photographs and drawings of terrifying rattlesnakes, elaborate cactus blossoms, the odd plants like yucca and jumping cactus. Clearly this place called the desert is not an easy place to be, but it is a fascinating one. When we see life at its most basic levels, what we truly need becomes far more clear.–Joseph Ross

Read Joe’s lovely essay The Necessary Truth of Deserts.

Video: Joseph Ross Reading From ‘Meeting Bone Man’

My friend Joseph Ross has released his first collection of poems titled Meeting Bone Man from Main Street Rag. He is an phenomenal, hard-working poet who investigates the hairline fractures in our souls and applies just enough pressure to stimulate healing before we snap in two.

Here’s Joe reading to a packed house at Busboys & Poets on Sunday, April 15, in Washington, D.C. This is his poem “First and Last” (for his mom).

Acclaimed poet Ethelbert Miller says Joe gives us a collection of poems that “traces words down the center of the back of death. Like a graffiti artist he tags our emotions. Ross takes us from the streets of DC to the land of Darfur. After every poem we are forced to ask – what is the deep truth? When Basquiat meets the Buddha only the Bone Man can tell the tale. Ross writes like a witness to a new religion. Have faith in these poems; they are filled with the type of light the darkness would love to kiss.”

Joe also just won the Enoch Pratt Library Poetry Contest with his poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God.” See more at JosephRoss.net.

“Meeting Bone Man” For the First Time

My friend Joseph Ross’ poetry collection, Meeting Bone Man, is now available for pre-order from the Main Street Rag Publishing web site. Please buy this book.

A launch reading for Meeting Bone Man will take place on April 15, 2012, at 5:00pm at Busboys & Poets, 14th & V Streets NW, Washington, D.C. He will be reading with poet Randall Horton.

Here’s an excerpt of what you’ll find in this hauntingly authentic collection:


Thinking of her
is kind

of a search, a voyage
of looking

for signs and moments,
shadows and gasps

of her. I still
move toward the phone

then stop myself,
a foolish son

who doesn’t remember
his mother is

dead. So begins
the search.

A hummingbird
dips into a

blood-colored flower
and I strain

my eyes to search,
to see

the other side
of my breath.

–Joseph Ross, Meeting Bone Man

Some advance praise for Joe’s book from leading poets in our time:

“I finish this beautiful, brave book with tears and a desire to run outside into blue chill day singing, calling to dogs and birds, sifting layers of elegy and affection that surround us all, gifts of recognition/recovery, precious connections and letting go, all of it at once, with our minds and our bones, yes, with everything we know. Oh brother, thank you, Joseph Ross.”–Naomi Shihab Nye, You and Yours (2005)

“Joseph Ross gives us a collection of poems that traces words down the center of the back of death. Like a graffiti artist he tags our emotions. Ross takes us from the streets of DC to the land of Darfur. After every poem we are forced to ask — what is the deep truth? When Basquiat meets the Buddha only the Bone Man can tell the tale. Ross writes like a witness to a new religion. Have faith in these poems; they are filled with the type of light the darkness would love to kiss.”–E. Ethelbert Miller, The Ear is an Organ Made for Love (2009)

“These poems by Joseph Ross in Meeting Bone Man read like translations–not from another language, but from a separate way of being, of understanding. Ross writes his way into the depths of the world in which we live, respecting and properly naming each similarity and difference for what it is–sometimes, for what it should be. This is a lovely book of poems.”–Jericho Brown, Please (2008)

E. Ethelbert Miller: ‘In the Beloved Community, there are no prison bars.’

Mier Wolf, former mayor of Chevy Chase, MD, and a board member of The Writer’s Center (both are in Metro-D.C. area) has started a poetry in prison program at the Montgomery County jail, near Clarksburg, MD. An early presenter was friend and mentor E. Ethelbert Miller (see the video below).

Poet extraordinaire Joseph Ross will be joining this project in the next few weeks. As Ethelbert says, “In the Beloved Community, there are no bars.”