Three Poems


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 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.

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 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? 



The Course of Meal

Apparently, too much of San Francisco was not there in the first place

This dream requires more condemned Africans
Or (put another way)
State violence rises down
Still life is just getting warmed up
army life is looking for a new church and ignored all other suggestions
folk tale writers have not made up their minds as to who is going to be their friends

 “this is the worst downtown yet. And I’ve borrowed a cigarette everywhere
…I’ve taken many a walk to the back of a bus that led on out the back of a storyteller’s prison sentence, then on out the back of slave scars.”

“Though this is my comeback face.”

“I left my watch on the public bathroom sink and took the toilet with me. I threw it at the first bus I saw eating single mothers half alive. It flew through the bus line number, then on out the front of the white house”

hopefully you find comfort downtown. But if not, we’ve brought you enough cigarette filters to make a decent winter coat

a special species of handshake
lets all know who’s king and what the lifespan is of uniform cloth

this coffin needs to quit acting like those are birds singing
rusty nails have no wings
have no voice other than that of a white world dying
there are book pages in the gas pump
catchy isn’t it?

the way three nooses is the rule
or the way potato sack masks go well with radio codes


Or the way condemned Africans fought their way back to the ocean only to find waves made of
1920s burned up piano parts
European backdoor deals
                                                 and red flowers for widows who spend all day in the sun
                                        mumbling at San Francisco

“red flowers, but what’s the color of a doctor visit?”

There are book titles in the street

 Book titles like:

 *Hero, You’d Make A Better Zero*

 *Fur Coat Lady, The President Is Dead*

 *Pay Me Back In Children*

 *They Hung Up Their Bodies In Their Own Museums*

 -and other book titles pulled out of a drum solo

-lied the hiding place

all the bullets in ten precincts know where to go
there’s no heaven (nor any other good ideas) in the sky
politics means: people did it and people do it.
understand that when in San Francisco
and other places that were never really there

bet this ocean thinks it’s an ocean
but it’s not.
it’s just 6th and mission street.


“All know who is king. King of thin things. Like america. I’m proud to deserve to die… I will eat
my dinner extra slow tonight in this
police state candy dispenser that
you all call a neighborhood…”

no set of manners
goes unpunished
never mind about
a murderer’s insomnia
or the tea kettle preparing everyone for police sirens



Heaven Is All Goodbyes

A 1978 statement 

My brother Biko and I are driving
In an empty cell lane 

We are God's evil to these settlers
They might throw us under the shift change

We take wolf naps

We don't know what else we good at besides this traveling

State lines in a night tide passing through beachhead america
Passing with hurricane memory
-Three thousand exits of sludge-bathed apartheid 

Everything south of Canada is extrajudicial gun oil
And your local unemployment factory

In a few hours we will fit in                                  Relax for now 

Hop out of the car and I'm a dirty shoe illusion
Leaning on the trunk with the ghosts of switchblades
                                                                                     And other rusty services 

I am enemy humor
And traveling

Father’s ashes on the back seat behind two sons

In a lane not for metaphor
Well, maybe a metaphor about something unfinished
-One million hands passing us through the Midwest

Last wishes by way of fishtail/Day dreams by way of collision/Home in the badlands of translation/Relaxed passing/Great grandparents' finger bones/Father's ashes /No longer arms/Just tattoos

Badlands imagination
A father's last trip home

We don't know what else we good at besides this traveling

Exits in collage/Exits in pieces/Pieces of 1970s kitchen plates/
In a good luck refrigerator/We still ain't ate/The narcotic swing of how we see yesterday

Get out of the car against desperate white supremacy

Gas station greetings
Stray dogs
And other earth born alarms
             We are stray deadly

Against desperate white supremacy/And other senses/That die silly/And have murdered

We don't know what else we good at
Besides this traveling 

Two coins/ or the toll is us

Character interstate on a journey of a million parallels

Some like us better high/Some like us better drunk/Every late night has a summer to it/Cousin breeze and murder rate 

Barreling like gut born love songs
Your ancestors are smiling
As we pass the time
When we ride
It's language

Passed Gary 3000
Cast iron lining /Proud forearms for meals

Three man ghost story

Fishers of ourselves 

Cards dealt

Narrative implied  

Maybe something unfinished 

Like an Indiana hurricane
Or two midnights in Milwaukee 

Or no arms
No tattoos
No Chicago
Ever again

We don't know what else we good at
Besides this traveling 

And besides
Heaven is all goodbyes


Tongo Eisen-Martin was born in San Francisco, California, and received an MA from Columbia University. He is the author of someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015), which was nominated for a California Book Award. Also a human rights activist and educator, he has taught at Columbia University and in detention centers across the country. He lives in San Francisco, California.
Check out footage of him reading at the Poetry Center at San Francisco Sate University:
Tongo Eisen-Martin performs from his work, September 8, 2016, at The Poetry Center, San Francisco State University. The full program (go to Poetry Center Digital Archive) features Eisen-Martin's full performance, a reading by Jasmine Gibson, and the two poets in conversation with one another and with the audience.