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Two Poems by Tongo Eisen-Martin

Two Poems by Tongo Eisen-Martin


A Story that the United States is Made of

A white child can
Send any number
To hell
Whether one demon
Or a whole horde
Something white
Will win
In the end

So get as close
To whiteness
As possible
Where it's safe
And there's honey
And Monday isn't so bad
And God will give you a pass
If you respect the flag
And watch enough television
Ignore a lot of yourself
Ignore a lot of us
Or flip the switch
Push the button
On behalf of white children

Or pass me a funky soda
Stocked in 1998
Or a beer
From the devil's bartender
Gas station and saloon

I never threw rocks
At the crazy lady
Just bricks at myself
Like the gas station
Got a basement
And I'm at home
Under 1998

Some white child somewhere
Wants to be my best friend
So I better
Prepare for the day we meet




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







Born in San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a movement worker, educator, and poet who has organized against mass incarceration and extra-judicial killing of Black people throughout the United States. He has educated in detention centers from New York's Rikers Island to California's San Quentin State Prison. His work in Rikers Island was featured in the New York Times. He was also adjunct faculty at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University in New York. Subscribing to the Freirian model of education, 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 uses his craft to create liberated territory wherever he performs and teaches. He recently lived and organized around issues of human rights and self-determination in Jackson, MS.

Eisen-Martin's newest collection of poems, Heaven is All Goodbyes (available September 2017 from City Lights), has been listed as one of the "most anticipated" books of poems for the fall, by Publisher's Weekly.

"A story the United States is made of" was originally published in his collection of poems, someone's dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015), which was nominated for a California Book Award.