The Sunday Poem: John Roche... 3 Poems from Road Ghosts (ALBUQUERQUE BURNING)

A year ago SoyJames started a very lively discussion about the Albuquerque riots in 1971.  He found these photos.  If you lived here at that time you certainly remember at least some of what happened.  Also, if you lived here then you probably stayed away from Yale Park, which was pretty much a campground for young people passing through town.  The UNM bookstore stands where Yale Park used to be.


John Roche hitchhiked into Albuquerque in mid-May.  Only 17 at the time, he was in the center of much of the action, and ended up "staying the longest month and a half of my life."  These poems are terrifyingly beautiful in their stark portrayal of the ferocity of life on the streets.


John Roche is an Associate Professor of English at Rochester Institute of Technology.  He earned his PhD from SUNY Buffalo, studying with Robert Creeley and John C. Clarke. His latest book of poems, Road Ghosts, is available  online (pdf) at, and is distributed through SPD.




Sunshine Night

Street festival
block Party
the Outlaws roar in from Tucson

Full moon solstice
strangers distribute 1000 hits of orange sunshine
word on the street says
it’s from Owsley’s and Scully’s private stash
(or the Brotherhood of Eternal Love?)

I spend the night in someone’s van
my body encased in cement

In the morning we revive at Denny’s

Nonprofit Pitch

Thank any god you choose
for that ACLU attorney
who took the unloaded looted-pawnshop rifle
out of my hands
that night
and drove off
to dump it in the Rio Grande
as I stood helpless
17-yr-old target
while the streets of Albuquerque

Worth a donation
now and again

For What It’s Worth

Stones fly at unmarked narc car
Yale Park, Albuquerque, June, 1971
chanting The Park belongs to the people!
Suddenly twenty squad cars scream into view
seventeen of us arrested in dragnet
bused to county lockup in Sandia Hills
girls sexually assaulted by guards
guys left alone to boredom of stir
most released next day on own recognizance

“The Albuquerque 17” someone coins, planning
Sunday afternoon concert in Roosevelt Park
to raise dough for the defense
Jethro Tull announces it from the stage Friday night
(can’t confirm— couldn’t bum a ticket)

All the backstory’s soon forgotten
when petty drug and wine arrests at concert site
spiral into all-out riot
police station and city hall surrounded
snipers on the rooftops

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street

Chanting dancing singing

Viva La Raza!

National Guard arrives so we know it’s serious
Hippies and redneck sheriffs both blindsided by history
While we were playing our little games
the original owners of this desert land
decided to take it back



--John Roche


Poetry submissions are welcome.  Email

Views: 1095

Comment by cathyray on May 8, 2011 at 9:34am
I was there, all for it, shouting & rebelling, getting high, being cool.
Comment by sumac on May 8, 2011 at 9:35am
I have a lot of love for old raDICAL aLBUQURQUE. I was only here starting late 70s, on and off ,to present(now in E. Mts, long story). Blessings the old communist boyfriends, Salt of the Earth and Living Batch bookstores,Purple hippo, the free porch, fighting against torture in Central America, the UNM neighborhood, the Chicano you all!
Comment by Richard V on May 8, 2011 at 11:32am
yes. poetry does matter. a refreshing voice on this post-bin-laden-usa!-usa! morning.
Comment by Aurelio Arley Sanchez on May 8, 2011 at 12:19pm
I was on a student whirlwind tour of Europe (21 countries in 18 days) and I remember at every stop we looked for papers to read about Albuquerque burning. We didn't know what we'd find when we got back, but through the haze, we could see Burque was still alive, not long after the National Guard stabbings at UNM campus, man, it was a hotbed for awhile...
Comment by Stewart Warren on May 8, 2011 at 1:33pm

Great stuff.  Do bards and poets have a responsibility to share the legends, to keep "history" on track?


"Don't let it get you down, it's only castles burning.

Find someone who's turning, and you will come around."

--Neil Young


Comment by Margaret Randall on May 9, 2011 at 12:17am
Great to see this here, Jon and John! I wanted to get on line first thing Sunday morning, as I do each week, but in the hinterlands of Tunisia internet access isn't that easy. Had to wait until this morning, when the thunder from last night's storm lessened and power was restored in the hotel where we are. Great, as always, to see this powerful work.
Comment by John Roche on May 9, 2011 at 7:33am
Thanks, Margaret, for recommending Road Ghosts to Jon. Love the historical photos and Jon's contextual intro. Thanks, everyone, for your interesting comments. Had forgotten about the renaming of Yale Park. Named for Reies Lopez Tijerina, I assume. Looking forward to visiting Albuquerque again in August for the Cultural Conference.
Comment by JMG on May 9, 2011 at 8:37pm
While waiting outside the Outpost Performance Center for the Grand Slam Poetry competition last Saturday night, I recalled The Bakery nearby.  The good old days!
Comment by Dee Cohen on May 10, 2011 at 10:45am

Interesting to read the poems and see photos of those days of protest and turmoil.

Wonder if it is the same Denny's now on Central?

Thanks for sharing some history. Dee

Comment by Merimee Moffitt on May 20, 2011 at 7:04pm
We rebelled in those days, dressed funny, lived wild and huddled together, invented new music and dance, used new and old drugs, practiced free love and expression, change just down the road a ways for women--and here we are now, Boomers--watching in horror . . . Thanks for the pix and words--I was in Vallecitos that spring--living as if in another century at least briefly.  The elders in Vallecitos were so cool and generous--La Raza alive and prowling


You need to be a member of Duke City Fix to add comments!

Join Duke City Fix

Connect with Us!

Featured Events in Albuquerque

Big Changes to the Fix!

We're making changes to the Fix! Check in with us for local news stories, events, photos, all the usual DCF stuff, on Facebook and Instagram starting September 1st. Find out more!

© 2017   Created by Duke City Fix.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service