The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2021

All Issues
SEPT 2021 Issue


For the Sweetest Laugh I’ve Ever Known

I close my eyes
 one floor beneath the Five-Spot

Walking a hundred circles in front of a museum photograph

I trusted you
And loved trusting you
And write poems about trusting you still

In Mississippi, I lived a couple non-walkable blocks from a
 juke house
Never did work up enough courage to start the love poem

I’m walking through the Lower Eastside with you


Trimming a third city
B and C avenue flowers that work shadow-wise
I asked mother earth for your hand

I’m already in the ground

Kick Drum Only

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
              — 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 a 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
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
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

Soldier Clothes

Millions pretend
                that water is white noise

That people part of memory
                                  sleeps beside a soda can
                                                                                     or two

Beside a chair’s-eye-view of revolution

Chemical America
                  becomes human enough
                                 to wear a wedding room

                                                                    then no form futher


Tongo Eisen-Martin

Tongo Eisen-Martin is the Poet Laureate of San Francisco, California. He is the author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights Books, 2017), which was shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize, received the California Book Award for Poetry, an American Book Award, and a PEN Oakland Book Award. He is also the author of someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015). Blood on the Fog, a new collection of poems, was published by City Lights in September 2021.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2021

All Issues