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Dispatch #056

Lower-Class Artist Imagines

by Tongo Eisen-Martin

                                                   Grip my heart tighter, Lord
                                                                                            Help me write on this sleeve…

                                                                                                                     like listening to Nina Simone later in life

                                                                                                                                                          The poet takes over for his 
                                                                                                                                                                                     former self:
                                                                                                                                                        The secret to writing poems 
                                                                                                                                                                              is to not deflect.
                                                                                                                                                       If you do not know anything 
                                                                                                                                                        fretted about the color blue,
                                                                                                                                                            don’t go calling yourself a 
                                                                                                                                                                                  child at heart.
                                                                                                                                                     If you have never improvised 
                                                                                                                                                                             an elevator ride,
                                                                                                                                                           don’t go calling yourself in 
                                                                                                                                                                                need of prayer.

Grace be to gang tattoos

a Reagan meeting adjourns and modern plant life begins
                                        along with dry out-of-body insight

                                        strange fake forest in
                                                     a poor person’s bird atrium

                                                                  bark around the Mississippi mixtape or
Carceral state mythology of a factory’s first Black Chaplin

Rotted food staring at a child
The minor progressions of revolution
                           drumming Molotov fills
                           three quarters and a floor stain staring as well

                           white children selling a child

                                                      (I mean I was there the night that
                                                                    San Francisco disappeared)

Think of me when the sun dies

Half man on scratch paper
Half pickpocket with flailing arms
                                         double fisted
                                         Alabama in my Paris
                                         I am an alcoholic in search of history books
                                                                                                                       ruining the light rail in search of
                                                                                                                                                          history books
                                                                                                                                       (I am limping to poetry)

Along with a caste of haves-adjacent
              A slave deck blossoms sweet baby Easter blood

                                                                   Maybe loss of crossroad
                                                                   along with unprovable music theory
                                                                                 (the poem turns into absolute political failure)

You know, not for nothing,
               the way you all like to blame the devil for every fallen intellectual
                                                                                               every repass fist fight

for every 28 hours in hurricane America
             blame him for every ballot burning

for every shallow pot, pan and murder-man
for every government plant, sloppy musician, and federally-flagged artist

for every floorplan of capitalists’ emotive geometry
                           and private school’s private anthems
                                                      for every kid in a cage

the way you all blame him, man, the devil must be in the sky too

                                                      eyes lowered in the land of the blind

                                                                                                            a mumbler with a gun/I am the 
                                                                                                            worst of your weapons, Lord

                                                                                                                                                                  Won’t 
                                                                                                                                                     you put a 
                                                                                                                                                     space heater 
                                                                                                                                                     in my grave

Kick Drum Only

by Tongo Eisen-Martin

All street life to a certain extent starts fair

Sometimes with a spiritual memory even

             Predawn soul-clap/ your father dying even

Maybe I’ve pushed the city too far

                                                                                              My sensitivities to landfill districting and 
                                                                                minstrel whistles/ modal gangsterism

                                                                                              White supremacist graffiti on westbound 
                                                                                rail guards

                                                                                                                          -all overcome and 
                                                                                                             reauthored

revolutionary violence that chose its own protagonists

or muted stage of genius

The garbage is growing voices

Condensed Marxism

for warrior-depressives

Underpasses in their pockets
Because they just might be deities

or decent bid on the Panther name

A merciful Marxism

Disquieted home life

Or metaphor for relaxing next to a person

Who is relaxing next to a gun

                                         I stare at my father for a few seconds

                                         Then return to my upbringing

                                                                                                           Return to the souls of Ohio Black folks

Revolution is damn near pagan at this point

You know what the clown wants? The respect of the ant.

Wants to interpret pain only

wants your old soul to turn young

see ancestors in broad day light

wants to pull a .38 out of a begging bowl

wants me to hurt my hand on this pen


I am not tired of these rooms; just tired of the world that give them a relativity

                                                                                                         My only change of clothes prosecuted

                                                                       The government has finally learned how to write poems

                                                                                                                         shoot-outs that briefly align…

                                                                                                                                     that make up a parable


white bodies are paid well, I posit

                                                                                                   do white men actually even have leaders?

                                                                                                                       all white people are white men


A rat pictures a river

Can almost taste the racial divide

Can almost roll a family member’s head into a city hall legislative chamber

Knows who in this good book will fly

              all I do is practice, Lord

                                                                                      I have decided not to talk out of anger ever again

Met my wife at the same time I met new audience members for our pain

We passed each other cigarettes and watched cops win

A city gone uniquely linear

Harlem of the West due a true universe


                                                                     “I will always remember you in fancy clothes,” my wife said

                                                                                                              so here I sit… twisting in silk ideation


My rifle made of post-bellum tar

My targets made of an honest language

This San Francisco poetry is how God knows that it is me whining

Writing among the lesser-respected wolves

Lesser-observed militarization

Dixie-less prison bookkeeping/I mean the California gray-coats are coming

lynch mob gossip and bourgeois debt collection

I mean, it’s tempting to change professions mid-poem

in a Chicago briefing, a white sergeant saying, “blank slate for all of us after this Black organizer 
is dead.”

standard academics toasting two-buck wine at the tank parade

bay of nothing, Lord

nuclear cobblestones, gunline athleticism

and the last of the inherited asthma

children given white dolls to play with and fear

facial expressions borrowed from rich people’s shoe strings

                                                                                                                                                     I can hear hate

                                                                                                                                                     And teach hate

                                                                                                                        And call tools by people names

                                                                                                            And name people dead to themselves

no one getting naturalized except federal agents soon

carving the equator into throats soon

I’m sorry to make you relive all of this, Lord

pre-dawn monarchy

friends putting up politician posters then snorting the remainder of the paste

minstrel scripts shoveled into the walls by their elders

my children sharpening quarters on the city’s edge


                                                                                                                                            For these audiences

                                                                                                            I project myself into a ghost like state

                                                                                                                  For these gangsters, I do the same

every now and then, we take a nervous look east

                                                                                                                                         Sleep becomes Christ

                                                                                                             Sleep starts growing a racial identity


do you ever spiral, Lord?

has the gang-age betrayed us?

be patient with my poems, Lord

So much pain

              there is a point to crime…

                           There has to be if race traitors come with it

                                                       Lord, is that my revolver in your hand?

Better presidents than these have yawned at cages

Have called us holy slaves

Filled the school libraries with cop documentaries

                                              Baby, I don’t have money for food

                                                                                      I have no present moment at all

Knees Next to Their Wallets

by Tongo Eisen-Martin

Fast cash smuggled through my infant torso

                                                      I arrived smiling

              Coral check-cashing spots seal my eyes

              Hearing voices,

                           but none of them sing to me

                                        I am lucky to be a metaphor for no one


                                                                                              Washing my face with the memory of water

                                                                                                            my back to the edge of a chessboard

                                                                                             I mean I’m settling into a petty arrest record

                                                                              With my face laid flat on an apartment kitchen table

                                                                                                                            Mississippi linoleum begins

                                                                             government plants braiding together breathing tubes


                                                                             A Greek philosopher takes the path of least resistance

                                                                                                               The bronze corporation age dawns

                                                                                                                                Citizen council rest haven

                                                                                                                          Coachable white nationalism

                                                                                                In board rooms, they ask if county line skin

                                                                                                       can be churned directly into cornflakes

                                                                                                              A senate’s special chain gang mines

                                                                                    our neighborhood for evidence of continent unity

                                                                                                                      Makes a mess of the word “kin”

                                                                                                                                            Makes a war report

                                                                                                    out of a family’s secret chord progression

                                                                                                                          Makes white people geniuses

Lynch mob freaks rehearse their show tunes

in the courthouse walls that they take for mirrors

Rehearse for a president’s pat on the head

A pat on the head

that they take for audience laughter

A lot of “sir”s in the soup

A lot of speed

Treaty ink stained teeth

write themselves a grin

Imperialist speech writers’ grins

boil over in my ink-riddled mind

A non-future dripping with real people

I mean, real people…Not poem people


                          A street with no servants somehow

                          A soul singer/somehow in the west

                          Consolation eternity

                          or

                          The poor man’s fish order

                          This half of a half of a spirit

                          Or husk of a messiah

                                                                                Religious memorabilia made from the wood of a 
                                                                  prison farm fence


                                                                                                          For sibling domestic colonies and 
                                                                                             the not-for-profit Tuesday meltdowns

                                                                                                                          We do straightforward time

dehydration takes hold of the police state

                                                                                                                                                  every 28 hours

                                                                                                                               the house dares the slave

doesn’t matter if you name a building Du Bois a thousand times

What really turns you into a sergeant mention

             Turns you into a landslide of sirens

                            layout sketches passed between deacons

Plot twists provided by white beggars

In a Black city

The fathers who Reagan flicked

Kicking garbage thinking about rates of production

Notebooks dangling out of car windows

System makes a psychic adjustment

                                                                    We Go the way of

                                                                    Now-extinct hand gestures

                                                                    Mediterranean sandals and underground moods

                                                                                                                                                     in tandem

                                                                                 I mean, whoever I am today is still your friend

Crooked cops and crooked news junkies

Amaudo Diallo is your mind on military science

              Mario Woods the gang enhancement they even put on God

If you turn down the television low enough, you can hear San Francisco begging for more war 
profiteering

We will not live forever, but someone out there wants us to

As mice pouring through an hour glass

                                                                     In Olympus, Babylon

                                                                     Or Babylon, Olympus

                                                                                                                                   subway car smoke session

                                                                                                     making its way into an interrogation room

                                                                                                                             (Maybe it is all just one room.

                                                                                                                       It’s definitely all just one smoker)

                                                                                     Live from your

                                                                                              monotheistic toy collection

                                                                                                                                  Poor people writing letters

                                                                                                                              near books about Malcolm X

                                                                                                                                                  Ice pick in the art

                                                                                                                                         new floor boards for 
                                                                                                                           Watts prophesy

                                                                                                                         Pen twitching over scrap paper

                                                                                                                                              Pen tweaking while

                                                                                 Smoothly a bus driver delivers incarcerated children

                                                                                                                                         The Lord’s door opens

Oct 12, 2020

Tongo Eisen-Martin is a San Francisco-based poet and activist. He is the current Poet Laureate of San Francisco. He is the author of someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015), nominated for a California Book Award; and Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017), which received a 2018 American Book Award, a 2018 California Book Award, was named a 2018 National California Booksellers Association Poetry Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin International Poetry Prize. His book Blood on the Fog (City Lights, 2021), was recently named by the New York Times as one of the top ten poetry books published in 2021. He is the cofounder of Black Freighter Press. He teaches poetry for SF Creative Writing Institute and is a frequently featured artist at our readings.

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