2 Poems

By Tongo Eisen-Martin

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 cage of a west bound 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 they laid me to ground.”
“fit in, youngster.”
“fit in, trigger man.”
“watch your nickname mean something to more than five people.”


the newspaper is on fire. forget about the car.

A white giant was born without a third dimension.
It wanders under county jail slippers and people who smoke by themselves in old city                   parks

Gas chambers are not complicated
Have a drink. Go to work.

“They lynched his car too. Strung it up right next to him… You see, a smart man
makes up his own set of holidays… Mind. I had a mind once. Served my immediate family well. But that’s all over now. Now I live in america… A smart man switches the dates around of his holidays too. Because enemies have a sense of humor.”

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”

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

the entire train station crouches behind a piano player
and why should Harlem not kill for its musicians
“He is in a dream”
“A spirit world”
“I should introduce myself”
“And convince him to sleep”

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
Tongo Eisen-MartinOriginally 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. He has taught in detention centers from New York’s Rikers Island to California county jails. He designed curricula for oppressed people’s education projects from San Francisco to South Africa. 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. He is also a revolutionary poet who uses his craft to create liberated territory wherever he performs and teaches. His latest book of poems entitled Someone’s Dead Already was nominated for a California Book Award. His next book, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, is being published in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series.

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