I Make Promises Before I Dream [excerpt]

© 2021 by Tongo Eisen-Martin


No unclaimed, cremated mothers this year

Nor collateral white skin


No mothers folding clothes to a corporate park preamble

No sons singing under the bright lights of a lumber yard


Quantum reaganomics and the tap steps of turning on a friend


New York trophy parts among

the limbs of decent people


Being an enraged artist is like

entering a room and not knowing what to get high off of


My formative symbols/My upbringing flying to an agent’s ears

I might as well be an activist


Called my girlfriend and described

All the bottles segregationists had thrown at me that day


Described recent blues sites and soothing prosecutions

I feared for my poetry


You have to make art every once in a while

While in the company of sell-outs


Tongo Eisen-Martin 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, and was named a 2018 National California Booksellers Association Poetry Book of the Year.

Eisen-Martin is also an educator and organizer whose work centers on issues of mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings of Black people, and human rights. He has taught at detention centers around the country and at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. He lives in San Francisco where he was born, and is now that city’s poet laureate.

Tongo will appear live, along with LA poet Matt Sedillo at a benefit for KPFK on Bastille Day, Friday July 14, at the Strategy and Soul Center, 3546 W Martin Luther King Blvd. (just e. of Crenshaw) LA 90008 323-903-6238. Reception and meet & greet, 6 pm $100; poetry readings 7:30 pm, $25, tix and all proceeds to benefit KPFK at https://kpfk.wedid.it/campaigns/11627-bastille-day-2023/contribute or at the door for the poetry reading (reception reserved and in advance only). Tongo Eisen-Martin is also the publisher of Black Freighter Press, and Matt Sedillo (co-host of KPFK’s La Raza Radio, Wed. 8 AM and Poets Cafe (Wed. 2:30 PM) is the publisher of El Martillo Press.

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