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


Perfectly,

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

or

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.


Comentarios


bottom of page