Advertisement

In one sense of the word, closeness describes caring intimacy. Yet nearness often involves nothing of the sort: Driving right by a prison every day without giving it a second thought. Living next to someone for years without ever learning their name. Claiming an ancestral land as your home, though it sits across the world from where you make a life. The meanings of distance are far from self-evident—distorted as they are by the bad math of anti-Blackness and empire, which give rise to all manner of violent proximities and enforced distances. 

In Tongo Eisen-Martin’s “Newly Arranged Appetite,” new arrangements of old forms map these rotten metrics, reconfiguring them in both space and time. “Dragging a century across a tobacco leaf / Making the mountain of painkillers a secondary definition,” Eisen-Martin writes, refusing the myopia of presentism, that deluded distancing from history, and forcing the contemporary to take its place in line. But despite the poem’s interest in setting things straight—for instance, “the various distances of what police are actually doing”—the coordinates that matter most are not those of a line, but of an upending throng: “A coup on Seventh / -The true meaning of numbers // To organize millions.” The poem exposes the violence of an old order, but it has no interest in imposing a new one. Nothing is fixed. In its final lines, the poem evokes the uneasy relation between capital and art, enrolling the reader as an agent of this precarious intimacy: It is neither history nor the masses, but you “balancing jewelry on this poem.”

– Claire Schwartz

Listen to Tongo Eisen-Martin read “Newly Arranged Appetite.”

Newly Arranged Appetite 

Field of grass on the radiator 
                          when you played

rhythming razors
hand pulled into an american institutionalization
              dragging a century across a tobacco leaf
              Making the mountain of painkillers a secondary definition 
           
                                                                   but money is green?

you are laying in the hospital for a week thinking about the various distances of love

also the various distances of 
what police are actually doing – – – Mason-Dixon line standing up straight 
Brochure of a liquor store on the corner
Identity climate like a karmic stream that goes hexagonal in the sky
Cash crop/You die

                           Seventh street siren inviting you into a paint can
                           Hip hop born already 8 years old in a lotus flower

We just want to know who gave the devil a protection spell

white mask students of the left 
sipping hibiscus whisky
European boots masquerading as relationships to trees
Heart-felt education of a modern slave
                                                                 -Scene 3 

Kill Kings
Eat Thrones

Consciousness in big Broadway letters
Closing the street to the New York 21

The Atlantic Ocean nearby licking South Carolina like art for the shrine. Like the streets are irrelevant. 

Spirit world about Black people
by Black people 
on the canvass
and the distance between 
the hand and the canvass

You fasten six strings to a spitting Cobra 

Your .40 is supportive of all art-making. It’s an epoch if the streets say it is. A junkie stands up for God. It’s an instinct of talent. A coup on Seventh.
                                                                                                 -The true meaning of numbers

To organize millions

Like the ruling class have a child (a ticket taker to the wealth) 
              The floor map between coal miner and in-crowd is easy to describe
              The challenge is to take all of these imperialist hybrids
              And pen stomp them into an apartment staircase 
                                                                                       to yearn for cosmic proof

                                                                            to recruit a soldier every day that you are alive

you start sleeping on the floor with your art… with the vigil world
with a nonchalant horn-personhood
or decent liver for this causality 
             stuffing pollution into your pockets
                          balancing jewelry on this poem


Tongo Eisen-Martin is the author of Someone’s Dead Already, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, Waiting Behind Tornados for Food (essays and poems) and the We Charge Genocide Again curriculum. His next book of poems will be published this fall in the City Lights Pocket Poet Series. He is San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.