Kick Drum Only

Tongo-Eisen-Martin, Kick Drum Only, Culture Currents
Tongo Eisen-Martin

by Tongo Eisen-Martin

The SF Bay View family is honored to have Tongo Eisen-Martin, educator, movement maker and recently named San Francisco poet laureate, join us for a monthly poetry column and help pave the way for more budding, revolutionary poets. – Nube Brown

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


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 gives 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

Young-Black-man-art-by-Biko-Eisen-Martin, Kick Drum Only, Culture Currents
Portrait of a young Black man – Art: Biko Eisen-Martin

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

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 U.S. He has educated in detention centers from New York’s Rikers Island to California’s San Quentin Prison. Tongo Eisen-Martin can be found on IG @_tongogara_.