Tongo Eisen-Martin

I Do Not Know the Spelling of Money

I go to the railroad tracks
And follow them to the station of my enemies

“Yes, you poets make points. But they are all silly.”

Police chief looking at the crowd
Like he is in some kind of solar position

Police chief looking straight through the poet

“Awkward basketball moves look good on you, sir… Yes, we are everywhere, sir… Bandanas in the middle of every society, sir… Surveil the shuffle, sir.”

The ruling class have a child

Outside of “Prophet Basket,” the bar
A cobalt-toothed man pitches pennies at my mugshot negative

The ruling class floats baskets of swathed neighborhood off to be adopted

Government plants braiding dust

Toddlers in the rock

I see why everyone out here got in the big cosmic basket
And why blood agreements mean a lot
And why I get shot back at

I understand the psycho-spiritual refusal to write white history or take the glass freeway

White skin tattooed on my right forearm
Ricochet sewage near where I collapsed
into a rat-infested manhood

My new existence as living graffiti

The new bullets pray over blankets made from old bullets

The 28th hour’s next beauty mark

The waist band before the next protest poster

…terrible rituals they have around the corner. They let their elders beg for public mercy…beg
for settler polity
I am going to go ahead and sharpen these kids’ heads into arrows myself and see how much
gravy spills out of family crests.

Bought slavers some time, didn’t it?
The tantric screeches of military bolts and Election-Tuesday cars

Proof of fondled nooses
And sundown couples
making their favorite graphic audience out of opaque peach plastic

the Medgar-second is definitely my favorite law of science

Fondled news clippings and primitive Methodists

My arm changes imperialisms
Simple policing vs. Structural frenzies
Elementary school script vs. Even whiter white spectrums

Artless bleeding and
the challenge of watching civilians think

Modern fans of war
What with their t-shirt poems
And t-shirt guilt

And me, having on the cheapest pair of shoes on the bus,
I have no choice but to read the city walls for signs of my life

Soldier Clothes

Millions pretend
that water is white noise

The people part of memory
sleeps beside a soda can
or two

Beside a chair’s-eye view of revolution

Chemical America
becomes human enough
to wear a wedding ring
then no form further

But Rooftops Did All the Work

Half asleep was my tutor
When I played my hand violently for the first time

“I’m snorting cocaine on the back of a poorly decorated camel,”
I told the choir as they rushed out of the church doors

“why are you all running in a drought?”

I wasn’t drunk when I said things to scare and/or mock people
I am a mock person
Clocks where the toilet
apparently does not need to be anymore

“at least I know where my veins are metaphors.”
-talking about facts that
the choir will never be able to handle

(they are somewhere pretending that they are in the desert)

“my veins are metaphors right here, chumps!”

“it wasn’t my idea,”
I say watching the library burn

“Go ahead now. Run to the corner store
and let the oligarchy know that everything is alright”

people/walking confidently down the street with their real arms reaching up
people/ walking confidently down the street/walking on top of their real clothes
people/naked with hands up

man, heaven sure is secretive

The staircase under this slavery
And one hundred slaves

For a delicate five dollars
I made a deal early in life
But now I feel like hanging in there a little longer
—when human flight becomes the fall that nobody saw

I am influenced by it all
—as is the custom

I do not trust immortal people
And therefore hope to not become one

“I’m a bluesman. Of course I mean to kill you.”

You look like an occasionally violent man
not in charge of an altar
not in charge of an important altar, anyway
not one that is about fancy deities
just a plain neighborhood for the dead

please give me
spare change and your word that I won’t be missing in a year

—as is the custom, two humans make a humanity

Originally from San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a poet. His latest 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, Someone’s Dead Already ,was nominated for a California Book Award. His latest book, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, was published by the City Lights Pocket Poets series, shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, won a California Book Award, and was awarded an American Book Award.
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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.