top of page

Tongo Eisen-Martin: California Poets Part 6, Five Poems

Tongo Eisen-Martin

October 18th, 2023

California Poets: Part VI

Tongo Eisen-Martin

Five Poems

The Sideman on the Canvass

My failing as a jail spirit

Or specific custody for me, Monk

Almost a fist through the marquee

They beat me like old pearls into river banks of an assortment of Black latitudes

So many stabbed-up instruments

Nothing left of us, but sweet Chicago rage

1919, Monk

My first poem as a white man

And all I see is a depopulated and obedient abyss twisting to the metronome ticks of my mother and father and baby prison society …God doesn’t even seem possible…I run every street…I light every cigarette…I conjure body language (don’t call it the south)… I live in someone’s terrified arms... there are these 1820s church pews…un-painting themselves…there are these cracker doves… and the prison just keeps getting older and older….and I know you have to be a genius…you know, invite the devil into Reconstruction… you have to chase music even while you are dying…my conscience is clean, but still not the blues…more gallant rats…and the death mask that fits millions…

Do you find me morbid, Monk?

I woke up on a battlefield and also looking down from the crystal of a windchime. I was a rooftop without a city

Trying to figure out the right thing to do with my spared change subtext—

Clinking coins dialoging like God’s efforts

The carpenter’s body was Black, right?

Underground body

Simile nothing

Abstraction nothing

[It’s] society time

detested and forgiven in this universe

letting me try my mind again

The police pantry was well-stocked

and there I was, not participating in street life

My hands far from the self-talk

You could actually see police leverage bobbing up and down in a nuclear harbor

You could see flattened massacres of Black people

The biographies done. Neatly stacked on top of my infant body

Sleeping through my first imperialist summer

hospital floors swept up of all ten million bullets

my conscience in drum patterns and drum patterns strangely perceived

no home away from police insecurities

no working-class artifacts

just the state mythos and its love balladeers

Europe serving two masters. Maybe two hundred thousand and a minor Christ.

someone begging for change next to biographies

stomachs pumped next to biographies

I had all these 7-day candles lit, Monk

and I knew I was just not getting it

the pain was just not sliding down the notes right

not saving someone’s world

just odd walls of fear

asking, “what is there actually a true self?”

between these mildly confident walls

recalling how the front of the body feels outside

social contracts well-dressed

and courted shrewdly

stabbed at shrewdly

A Sketch about Genocide

A San Francisco police chief says, “Yes, you poets make points. But they are all silly,”

Police chief sowing a mouth onto a mouth

Police chief looking straight through the poet

Flesh market both sides of the levy

Change of plans both sides of the nonviolence

On no earth

Just an earth character

His subordinate says, “Awkward basketball moves look good on you, sir... Yes, we are everywhere, sir… yes, unfortunately for now, white people only have Black History … we will slide the wallpaper right into their cereal bowls, sir … Surveil the shuffle.”

I am a beggar and all of this day is too easy

I want to see all of the phases of a wall

Every age it goes through

Its humanity

Its environmental racism

We call this the ordeal blues

Now crawl to the piano seat and make a blanket for your cell

Paint scenes of a child dancing up to the court appearance

And leaving a man,

but not for home

Atlantic ocean charts mixed in with parole papers

Mainstream funding (the ruling class’s only pacifism)

Ruling class printing judges (fiat kangaroos)

Making judges hand over fist

Rapture cop packs and opposition whites all above a thorny stem

Caste plans picked out like vans for the murder show

anglo-saints addicting you to a power structure

you want me to raise a little slave, don’t you?

bash his little brain in

and send him to your civil rights

No pain

Just a white pain

Delicate bullets in a box next to a stack of monolith scriptures

(makes these bullets look relevant, don’t it?)

I remember you

Everywhere you lay your hat is the capital of the south

The posture you introduced to that fence

The fence you introduced to political theory

If you shred my dreams, son

I will tack you to gun smoke

The suburbs are finally offended

this will be a meditation too

Fog Poem Number 71

You all prayed so perfectly just now

(in the growing San Francisco language)

Tomorrow, we start again with the gold…

new neighbors in the trance of spiritual infancy

newspaper people describing the way the non-white-class body stretches out on benches

how the city will sit you down next to the kindest alcoholism

spare fanaticism…a steal

in the shooting gallery that becomes a shooting gallery (or the next vaudeville congress)

accordingly, newspaper people wanting in on underground gambling shacks

maybe even in on sensible proletariat retribution


from your lips to courthouse tiles…the revolution that devils do… discovered by young artists in a complexity of passing…predictable…anti-elder… easy to kill… illegitimate to Afrika

white counterculture like

a lighthouse in the middle of a prison

or ageless joke about how well religions work

where white authors have been

dreamscape for the petit bourgeoisie

who have tempers, but not dancefloor tempers

who have to write fiction to redeem a neighborhood mauling

write myths about how the jungle makes its faces

makes its passports to the shelter system

mauling page after page

delivered to powerlessness

sweet honey county-line terrorism takes your neighbors

Apostle brain matter what buckets are made for…

Pray over these buckets…comment on slavery…loosen the white supply of whisky… supply of white city…

why not shower with light

really clean the blood off of your shoes

in walled off language

quotes from the newer undergrounds

the white movie drags on

a ton of limbs made into one glass rim

into a musics of compassion

or star in the minds of the addicts who really count out here

When they talk about the summer

They make it sound like birds of prey were involved

Our next duet

Back in San Francisco making money off of drugs again

In a symmetry of rage

Breaking the news that the city did not have to die young

A Play in Two Parts

English is a lukewarm relationship with your people

With practice, I met every white person in the world

The state’s pastel gibberish and

White noise watchlists transmuted by agents who

point finger pistols

at Black children

…for funded nature

And now it’s winter…or adulthood in america

Retail awards and standard issue bullets left on a plate outside my door

Plate design inspired by the gold-trim razor wire around mother Afrika

-A congressional motif

Rope tickles neck

I am a human sacrifice/ my parallel employment --- pocket full of fists--- defining efforts to be part of a famous family/ the hospital bed shakes

Now I am a white man’s son

…to quote the people who left me for dead

Nervous energy all over the constitution

…I owe you a war

I had a firm grasp on my mortality

I had an idea for a sonnet and a prison wall all picked out

Besides the nightstick, I know no other colors today

My double grows in Mississippi

My shoulders turned towards where lesser gods landed

Where the light changes revolutions

Pure america now confronts the woman I love

Psalm sketched

A sketch of gallows foreplay

(You’ve taken me back

Your humble narrator)

Gallows band stand

and every place she turned my life into decent artwork

Imagine us

the death of commerce

velvet gloves passing around our FBI file

Police station muscling for robber baron free associations

The sum of all corporate defense mechanisms

Maybe a pale horse hoof

Policing that don’t involve populations

Just population-symbols

Rope tickles a trumpet of God’s

In the beginning was the word for a little bit

Rope tickles the water

Out-evolved by the police state, the suburbs retract

bullwhips dealt liberally in a prison society

vice president’s initials on every nightstick

saying, “the next person out the door better mean america no harm”

I’ve been blinded by this sun sitting on the wall

Our door hinges in the water

I wish my imagination was formal

Deathtrap narrator book-burning the hospital lobby

Gallows king

I am a revolutionary there too

Knees Next to Their Wallets

By Tongo Eisen-Martin

Fast cash smuggled through my infant torso

I arrived smiling

Coral check-cashing spots seal my eyes

Hearing voices,

but none of them sing to me

I am lucky to be a metaphor for no one

Washing my face with the memory of water

my back to the edge of a chessboard

I mean I’m settling into a petty arrest record

With my face laid flat on an apartment kitchen table

Mississippi linoleum begins

government plants braiding together breathing tubes

A Greek philosopher takes the path of least resistance

The bronze corporation age dawns

Citizen council rest haven

Coachable white nationalism

In board rooms, they ask if county line skin

can be churned directly into cornflakes

A senate’s special chain gang mines

our neighborhood for evidence of continent unity

Makes a mess of the word “kin”

Makes a war report

out of a family’s secret chord progression

Makes white people geniuses

Lynch mob freaks rehearse their show tunes

in the courthouse walls that they take for mirrors

Rehearse for a president’s pat on the head

A pat on the head

that they take for audience laughter

A lot of “sir”s in the soup

A lot of speed

Treaty ink stained teeth

write themselves a grin

Imperialist speech writers’ grins

boil over in my ink-riddled mind

A non-future dripping with real people

I mean, real people…Not poem people

A street with no servants somehow

A soul singer/somehow in the west

Consolation eternity


The poor man’s fish order

This half of a half of a spirit

Or husk of a messiah

Religious memorabilia made from the wood of a prison farm fence

For sibling domestic colonies and the not-for-profit Tuesday meltdowns

We do straightforward time

dehydration takes hold of the police state

every 28 hours

the house dares the slave

doesn’t matter if you name a building Du Bois a thousand times

What really turns you into a sergeant mention

Turns you into a landslide of sirens

layout sketches passed between deacons

Plot twists provided by white beggars

In a Black city

The fathers who Reagan flicked

Kicking garbage thinking about rates of production

Notebooks dangling out of car windows

System makes a psychic adjustment

We Go the way of

Now-extinct hand gestures

Mediterranean sandals and underground moods

in tandem

I mean, whoever I am today is still your friend

Crooked cops and crooked news junkies

Amaudo Diallo is your mind on military science

Mario Woods the gang enhancement they even put on God

If you turn down the television low enough, you can hear San Francisco begging for more war profiteering

We will not live forever, but someone out there wants us to

As mice pouring through an hour glass

In Olympus, Babylon

Or Babylon, Olympus

subway car smoke session

making its way into an interrogation room

(Maybe it is all just one room.

It’s definitely all just one smoker)

Live from your

monotheistic toy collection

Poor people writing letters

near books about Malcolm X

Ice pick in the art

new floor boards for Watts prophesy

Pen twitching over scrap paper

Pen tweaking while

Smoothly a bus driver delivers incarcerated children

The Lord’s door opens

Author Bio:

Originally from San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a poet, movement worker, and educator. His curriculum on extrajudicial killing of Black people, We Charge Genocide Again, has been used as an educational and organizing tool throughout the country. His book titled, “Someone’s Dead Already” was nominated for a California Book Award. His book “Heaven Is All Goodbyes” was published by the City Lights Pocket Poets series, was shortlisted for the Griffins Poetry Prize and won a California Book Award and an American Book Award. His latest book “Blood On The Fog” was named one of the New York Times poetry books of the year. In 2020, he co-founded Black Freighter Press to publish revolutionary works. He is San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.


bottom of page