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Tongo Eisen-Martin




Apparently, too much of San Francisco was not there in the first place

This dream requires more condemned Africans
State violence rises down
Still life is just getting warmed up
army life is looking for a new church and ignored all other suggestions
folk tale writers have not made up their minds as to who is going to be their friends

“this is the worst downtown yet. And I’ve borrowed a cigarette everywhere
…I’ve taken many walks to the back of buses…that led on out the back of a story teller’s prison sentence… then on out the back of slave scars.” 

“this is my comeback face. Though I know you can’t tell…”

“I left my watch on the public bathroom sink and took the toilet with me. I threw it at the first bus I saw eating single mothers half alive. It flew through the line number… then on out the front of the white house”

hopefully you find comfort downtown. But if not, we’ve brought you enough cigarette filters to make a decent winter coat

a special species of handshake
let’s all know who’s king and what the lifespan is of uniform cloth

this coffin needs to quit acting like those are birds singing
those rusty nails have no wings
and have no voice other than a white world dying
there are indeed book pages in the gas pump
catchy isn’t it?
the way three nooses is the rule
the way potato sack masks go well with radio codes

Or the way condemned Africans fought their way back to the ocean only to find waves made of
burned up 1920’s piano parts
European backdoor deals
and red flowers for widows who spend all day in the sun mumbling at San Francisco

“what’s the color of a doctor visit?”

Book titles in the street like:

*Hero, You’d Make A Better Zero*

*Fur Coat Lady, The President Is Dead*

*Pay Me Back In Children*

*They Hung Up Their Bodies In Their Own Museums*

-and other book titles pulled out of a drum solo

-lied the hiding place

all the bullets in ten precincts know where to go
no heaven (nor any other good ideas) are in the sky
politics means: people did it and people do it.
understand that when in San Francisco
and other places that were never really there

bet this ocean thinks it’s an ocean
but it’s not.
it’s sixth and mission.


“All know who is king. King of thin things. Like america. I’m proud to deserve to die… I will eat my dinner extra slow tonight in this
police state candy dispenser that
you all call a neighborhood… “

no set of manners
goes unpunished
never mind about
a murderer’s insomnia
or the tea kettle preparing everyone for police sirens





I am off to make a church bell out of a bank window

“kitchens meant
more to the masses
back in the day”

and before that?

“we had no enemy”

somewhere in america
the prison bus is running on time

you are going to want
to lose that job
before the revolution hits

                         I won’t be home for breakfast.
                         Everyone out here now knows my name.
                         And I won’t be turned against for at least four months.

-The cop in the picket line is a hard working rookie.
-The sign in my hand is getting more and more laughs
                                                (something about a numb tumble).

-The picket line got cops in it.

“I can take care of
these windows for you,
but someone else
has to go in your gas tank”

was clear to the man that
 rich people had talked too much this year

go ahead and throw down that marble park bench
everyone is looking up at,
 you know, 
get the Romans out of your mind

Maybe a good night’s sleep
would have changed
The last twenty years of my life

-Playing an instrument
Is like punching a wall-

What would you have me do?
Replace the population?
Give brotherhood back to the winter?
Stop smoking cigarettes with the barely dead?

They listen in on the Sabbath

Police called the police on me
-a white candlestick beneath my detention

“I’ve ruined the soup again,”
thought the judge
as he took off his pilgrim robe
behind a white people’s door (and more)

“I didn’t get lucky. I got
what was coming to me,”
he toasts

“fight me back,”
the man says, of course, to himself

washing windows with a will to live
tin can on his left shoulder
enjoying the bright brand new blight
with all party goers
(both supernatural and supernaturally down to earth)

what, is this elevator traveling side to side?

Like one thousand bitter polaroid pictures you actually try to eat
All the furniture on this street is nailed to the cement
Cheap furniture, but we have commitment

This morning, an essay opens the conversation between enemies
“why, because you control every gram of processed sugar
between here and a poor man’s border?”
“because in the tin can on my left shoulder
I can hear the engines of deindustrialization?”

-You should get into painting,
You know,
Tell lies deeply-

I’m rooting for the traitor this month

Carting cement to my pillow… “here we will build”

“Tongo is high again. Not talking much. 
Twenty movie casts later. Light hearted, I guess.”

Climb the organ pipe up to our apartment floor

“Tongo is high again. Calling everything church.
Singing along to the courtyard.”

Thanks to a horn player’s holy past time 

“Tongo is at the store.”

Old enough to know everything the floor tile knows

“Tongo decided only flat un-swept things inside can talk.”

Climb up to the rustiest nail

“Tongo is in the room reading again.”

-Put a real jacket on it
Talk about a real five years-

Keep memories like these
In my pocket
Next to the toll receipt 

a man lost a wager
with the god of good causes,
you know,
stood up for himself
a little too late
(maybe too early)

I can still see
Twenty angles of his jaw
Zig zagging through
The cold world
Of deindustrialization 

“art to it,” I will tell my closest friends one day






Tongo Eisen-Martin is a poet, organizer and educator who has organized against mass incarceration and extra-judicial killing of Black people throughout the United States. His latest book of poems titled, "someone's dead already" was nominated for a California Book Award.