from Faceless

Tongo Eisen-Martin

copyright ©2017 by Tongo Eisen-Martin

My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison.
If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city.

When a courtyard talks on behalf of military issue,
all walks take place outside of the body.

Dear life to your left
A medieval painting to your right

None of this makes an impression

Crop people living in thin air
You got five minutes
to learn how to see
through this breeze

When a mask goes sideways,
Barbed wire becomes the floor
Barbed wire becomes the roof
Forty feet into the sky
becomes out of bounds

When a mask breaks in half,
mind which way the eyes go.

Notes on the Poem

Not only are the poems of Tongo Eisen-Martin's 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Heaven Is All Goodbyes gripping on the page, but they are astounding and compelling to hear presented by the poet. We were so fortunate to do just that during the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize readings ... Once you have heard him speak, we contend that it's impossible to go back to the words on the page and not hear his voice. His demeanour has an offhand ease that makes the words seem extemporaneous, but they are faithful to the words written. The almost unearthly calm of his delivery actually demands your full attention - you are leaning forward to catch every phrase and line and absorb their intensity. Added to the marvel of Eisen-Martin's readings is that the lecterns before him are bare of pages or notes. So go ahead: read this excerpt from the poem "Faceless" and register what is revealed through imagining his voice bringing it to life. On Monday, January 18th, 2021, Tongo Eisen-Martin's indelible voice will be applied to a special keynote address he will present online for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in conjunction with Reed College of Portland, Oregon. The address is described as endeavouring "through poetry and exposition [to] investigate the trajectories of liberation for Black people in the United States and what it will require of our imagination and commitment." Even if he doesn't have notes before him for that address, we hope the blazing words will be available after - like the poems we've experienced here - for all of us to learn from and revere.

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