Tongo Eisen-Martin


A tour guide through your robbery
He also is

Cigarette saying, “look what I did about your silence.”

Ransom water and box spring gold
—This decade is only for accent grooming, I guess

Ransom water and box spring gold
—The corner store must die

War games, I guess

All these tongues rummage junk

The start of mass destruction
Begins and ends
In restaurant bathrooms
That some people use
And other people clean

“you telling me there’s a rag in the sky?”
—waiting for you. yes—

we’ve written a scene
we’ve set a stage

we should have fit in. warehouse jobs are for communists. But now more corridor and hallway have walked into our lives. Now the whistling is less playful. The barbed wire is overcrowded too.

My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison.
If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city.

When a courtyard talks on behalf of military issue,
all walks take place outside of the body.
Dear life to your left.
Medieval painting to your right.
None of this makes an impression.
Crop people living in thin air.
You got five minutes
to learn how to see
through this breeze.
When a mask goes sideways,
barbed wire becomes the floor.
Barbed wire becomes the roof.
Forty feet into the sky
becomes out of bounds.
When a mask breaks in half,
mind which way the eyes go.

They’ve killed the world for the sake of giving everyone the same backstory

We’re watching Gary, Indiana fight itself into the sky

Old pennies for wind. For that wind you feel before the hood goes up and over your headache. Pennies that stick to each other (mocking all aspirations). Stuck together pennies was the first newspaper I ever read. Along with the storefront dwelling army that always lets us down.

Where the holy spirit favors the backroom. Souls in a situation that offer one hundred ways to remain a loser. Souls watching the clock hoping that eyes don’t lie to sad people.

“what were we talking about again?”
the narrator asked the graveyard
—ten minutes flat—
said the graveyard
—the funeral only took ten minutes—
“never tell anyone that again,”
the narrator severely replied

“You just going to pin the 90s on me?”
—all thirty years of them—
“Then why should I know the difference between sleep and satire?”

the pyramid of corner stores fell on our heads
—we died right away

that building wants to climb up and jump off another building
—these are downtown decisions

somewhere on this planet, it is august 7th

and we’re running down the rust thinking, “one more needs to come with me”

on earth, so
that we could
be sent back

A conductor of minds
In a city-wide symphony
Waving souls to sing
He also is

Where Windows Should Be

“How did I miss that brother’s name?”
said the sorriest man in the crowd
with candle light on his face.

Someone who looks just like you
came through earlier
and said he was the devil.
We stopped him before
he could crack his first joke.

“I can’t wait to fall out the sky
on these suckers again,”
he mumbled walking away

“I guess greetings end
when the knife gets dull,”
he also mumbled

every once in a while
blood jumps back into the body
and the cosmos go home
(easy going art)

a woman stops to steady herself,
but her shoulder keeps walking
a man stops to tie his shoes,
but his tongue keeps walking
an infamous child
meets an infamous street
and pulls off an infamous miracle

a gambler came through earlier
looking just like you

we put his head on a paint brush
and got back to work

arguing with each other:

“what do you mean puddles don’t smile?”

“and why can’t jail bars un-bloom?”

“we call them crumbs! You call them crumbs!”

arm in arm
back alleys walk
after becoming people

rights, baby! Even we get rights too!

A man plays the trumpet next door
Then never no more

I whispered once
It didn’t go well
Wine in my cup
They called it a yell

Don’t make a scene
All friendships have dead people in them

“you are the one folding up bottles like paper
and putting them under windshields!”

“it’s only weird
when no one else plays along!”

Candle light on faces
The riot keeps walking

Channels to fall asleep to

While shoe box to shoe box travels my childhood

Professionals roll garbage cans around a conference room
Half the size of a holding tank
Half the hope of a holding tank
Full of third world retail flattery
“nothing wrong with the blind leading the blind,”
we think they just said

porcelain epoch
succeeding for the most part
dying for the most part
married for the most part to its death

when a hostage has a hostage
that is u.s. education

stores detach their heads
and expect you to do the same when you enter

God says, “do not trust me in this room”

Two fascists walk into a bar
One says, “let’s make a baby.”
The other says, “let’s make three… and let the first one eat the other two.”

your sky or mine
read from
the book of pool room enemies

“I’m the best kind of square. Poor and in love with the 1960s. The first picture I ever
saw in my life faded from my storytelling a long time ago.”

Not even ten years old
And most of you are on my shoulders

The store’s detached head smiled

casually be poor
teach yourself
how to get out of this room
and we’ll leave you enough blood
to turn off the lights
on your way out

casually be poor…
they are all cops when you are poor

may we all refuse to die at the same time

“I believe I wasn’t born yet, when a young woman put her first gun under a car seat,”
The painter explained
in front of his work
with a .38 in his back pocket

Combination of conversations you may call it:
The day all the saints clocked in late
mixed with the first serious talk
seven-year-old best friends have about war.

What war stories taught me I now teach you

“the world is just a constellation of walls.
Twitch a little less than everyone else.
That’s the key.”

I miss her
Or is the static of a westbound interstate bus ride beautiful when all but three
people are asleep

I’m writing poems for the rest of my life again

Taught by the greats:
“friends make friends. You just be a good liar.”
“you would not believe the grains of blue I found after I was laid to ground.”
“fit in, youngster/fit in, trigger man.”
“watch your nickname mean something to more than five people.”

Conversations about how a white giant
born without a third dimension
Is wandering under county jail slippers
and people who smoke by themselves in old city parks

and how

Electric chairs are not complicated:
Have a drink. Go to work.

“They lynched his car too. Strung it up right next to him… A smart man
makes up his own set of holidays… A smart man occasionally switches the dates
around of his holidays too. Because enemies have a sense of humor.”

Mind. I had a mind once. Served my immediate family well. But that’s all over now.

Now I live in america

A most impressive reimagining of a painter

Up here
Where the tenth floor
Might as well be a cloud of dust
Or a version of myself that
I can point your attention to
While I count my money and curse mankind

The best way to pay me
Is in my left hand
While my right is juggling
A cigarette
A steering wheel
And a negotiation with the ruling class

Maybe you are not a sleepy employee in a project lobby
Maybe you are blood on a fiber
Maybe you are my friend

I have ruled the world.
Let me sleep this off.
Is that your tongue in the sky?
That’s the only weather I need.

Lazy conversation
—the only way physics advances

my right hand jogs away from the band

this getaway is live

this instrument
is not yet invented

Coming down
With the rest of the sound
—the young woman and me about to be born

“And there. There is you. Dancing with someone’s daughter in front of the precinct”

Originally from San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a poet, movement worker and educator. His curriculum on extra-judicial killing of Black people, titled “We Charge Genocide Again” has been used as an organizing tool throughout the country. His latest book of poems, Someone’s Dead Already, was nominated for a California Book Award. His next book of poems, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, will be published in Fall 2017 by the City Lights Pocket Poets Series.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis ( is the Editor-in-chief and founder of Posit ( and the author of ten books and chapbooks, including Zoom (winner of the Washington Prize), Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies such as Walkers in the City (Rain Taxi), They Said (Black Lawrence Press), and Resist Much, Obey Little (Dispatches/Spuyten Duyvil), as well as in journals such as Agni, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions online, Diode, Interim, New American Writing, and VOLT.

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