Two Poems by Tongo Eisen-Martin

From His Latest Collection Heaven is All Goodbyes

November 13, 2017 
The following poems are from Tongo Eisen-Martin's collection of poetry, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, from City Lights. Originally from San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a movement worker and educator who has organized against mass incarceration and extra-judicial killing of Black people throughout the United States. 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 of poems, Someone's Dead Already was nominated for a California Book Award.


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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

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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-

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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 and 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.

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Dear life to your left
A 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.

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They 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 feeling you get before the hood goes up and over your headache. Pennies that stick together (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 that to anyone 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”

evaporated on earth,
so that we could be
sent back down?


Skid Bid

Here comes the tap water whistling passed our heads
Institution tile under brake pedals
Matching the white watches
Painted on palms for smash and grab recollections
people who are related by ballad:
hotplate failures fishing for proletarians
the matchstick that is a draft card
(by the time the loner finishes sweeping the train)
also related by ballad:
under-paved streets hanging like strips of film in thin air


I miss the carpentry more than the religion

I tore the tattoo out of my uncle’s picture and lent it to my friends
one left cross at a time

–life mimed behind my back

they say, the child would do better upside down:

the child’s cake party is in the precinct/mainstream tune playing upside down
a t-shirt with their face printed on a cop’s thumb

twenty-eight hours later, a headrest will do

the city rain feels like clientele
I dozed on the back of a bus and
woke up in the mind of a three-story man

“God wants you here with that crowbar in your hand… all of the world is a third floor.”

seasons invent themselves
but we invent the underground

—cause and effect is nothing but a casual venue I once played—

he decided not to kill me like giving loose change
don’t teeter now, tall man
I was nobody at point blank
nobody finally again

lung first I fell

a love
a rule
a hate

dance moves within murder attempts within dance moves

Lean back and be celebrated by small people,” he said. The clothes on my life teacher needed new patches. “Sit back and disrespect it all

“I’ve given up on counterrevolution,” I said
Well then here is your weapon, Little Bank

—That’s our father you are writing graffiti on—

Horn players beat him up
and everyone left the altercation a better person

“knowing what you know now
would you still have written fortunes
on the bottom of church shoes
and put them back on the rack?”

“How does everyone think that a rich guy is their twin?”
-along with other tantrums is my cue

fortune teller half sleeps while talking about a mayor treading all over the posters in my childhood room and how cold calculation mothers nothing
and a vision of chess pieces in chains…….

He says,
“Then you will have fear. Then you will have form.”



From Heaven is All Goodbyes. Copyright © 2017 by Tongo Eisen-Martin. Used with permission of City Lights Books

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