Three buildings make a tide

by Tongo Eisen-Martin

copyright ©2017 by Tongo Eisen-Martin

I do not regret the things I said to that wall
stories about hand ratios in brawls
and a hotel kitchen entrance killer
and steamboats where they dedicate their one-night stand to
   driftwood

While we look at all the pretty kingdoms floating
   over our tents
      While we get the surplus treatment

Don’t put your shoe on my shoulder
And call it a hand (one building makes a jail)

“that’s a lot of people for
only a little bit of commotion”

The bookshelf looks alive to me
Alive and my opposition (until the devil lets me go)

My sidekick is the bootlegger

I tied up our friend as soon as a couple rich people acted like they
cared about him

A painting of a sun watched me end lives

The point I was making began scaring other patrons in the pool hall

“who would name themselves after this city?”
– to which I reply, “the only woman for me.”

Calling my drug the scoundrel and cousin / an axe handle in its
   five minutes as a twin

Painting my walls with pieces of other walls

I wandered to the edge of the parking lot

Notes on the Poem

Of the collection from which Tongo Eisen-Martin's poem "Three buildings make a tide" comes, the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize judges observed "Heaven Is All Goodbyes moves between trenchant political critique and dreamlike association, demonstrating how, in the right hands, one mode might energize the other — keeping alternative orders of meaning alive in the face of radical injustice." Line by line, we can feel the movement the judges describe, and yes, we can feel the clash of allusive, at times elusive, at times propulsive energies at play. From the start, a line like "I do not regret the things I said to that wall" has us willing to take the words literally, or to accept that we're willingly entering an edgy and treacherous dream world. From "brawls" and "a hotel entrance killer" to tying someone up (again, literally?) or wielding an axe handle (where is the blade?), a sense of foreboding shifts back and forth with benign whimsy the likes of "pretty kingdoms floating". Where have we followed the poem's narrator to, and where are we going next? In fact, is the narrator menacing ...

"I tied up our friend as soon as a couple rich people acted like they cared about him A painting of a sun watched me end lives The point I was making began scaring other patrons in the pool hall"

... or being menaced?

"The bookshelf looks alive to me Alive and my opposition (until the devil lets me go)"

Perhaps loosely akin to the medieval literary form of the dream vision, Eisen-Martin leads us through the mists of a threatening, bewildering dreamscape to the promise of stark, crystal clear revelations at "the edge of the parking lot" ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *