from Heaven Is All Goodbyes

Tongo Eisen-Martin

copyright ©2017 by Tongo Eisen-Martin

Father’s ashes on the back seat behind two sons

In a lane not for metaphor
Well, maybe a metaphor about something unfinished
-One million hands passing us through the Midwest

Last wishes by way of fishtail / Day dreams by way of collision /
   Home in the badlands of translation / Relaxed passing / Great
   grandparents’ finger bones / Father’s ashes / No longer arms /
   Just tattoos

Badlands imagination
A father’s last trip home

We don’t know what else we good at besides this traveling

Exits in collage / Exits in pieces / Pieces of 1970s kitchen plates /
   In a good luck refrigerator / We still ain’t ate / The narcotic
   swing of how we see yesterday

Get out of the car against desperate white supremacy

Notes on the Poem

Over the next seven weeks, our Poem of the Week choices will come from the freshly announced 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. The first selection is an excerpt from the titular poem of Tongo Eisen-Martin's powerful collection Heaven Is All Goodbyes. Eisen-Martin offers moving storytelling made particularly powerful by how simply and strikingly it is delivered - there is so much packed into just one line: "Father's ashes on the back seat behind two sons" Skilfully, he juxtaposes that with a smooth deconstruction of the tools and techniques for telling stories, singling out metaphor, which he points out elsewhere in this collection, and which we have examined in other Poems of the Week. Because he has expressly mentioned metaphor, we're then on tenterhooks as we follow the two sons on their tender journey on "a father's last trip home". Is the journey literally fraught with fishtails, collisions and other vehicular mishaps, or are those stand-ins for emotional calamities? We want them to reach their destination as they ruefully observe that "We don't know what else we good at besides this traveling" How literally versus symbolically do we take the potent and disturbing last line of this excerpt? We just want the two brothers to peacefully resume or conclude their travels.

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