I Do Not Know the Spelling of Money


TEXT BY Tongo Eisen-Martin

Elizabeth Catlett, Watts/Detroit/ Washington/Harlem/Newark, 1970. Linocut on paper, 215/8 × 343/4 in. Studio Museum in Harlem, Gift of the artist, 1972.9.1 ©2018 Catlett Mora Family Trust/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Sasha J. Smith-Mendez

I go to the railroad tracks

And follow them to the station of my enemies


A cobalt-toothed man pitches pennies at my mugshot negative


All over the united states, there are

Toddlers in the rock


I see why everyone out here got in the big cosmic basket

And why blood agreements mean a lot

And why I get shot back at


I understand the psycho-spiritual refusal to write white history or take the glass freeway


White skin tattooed on my right forearm

Ricochet sewage near where I collapsed

into a rat-infested manhood


My new existence as living graffiti


In the kitchen with

a lot of gun cylinders to hack up

House of God in part

No cops in part


My body brings down the Christmas


The new bullets pray over blankets made from old bullets


Pray over the 28th hour’s next beauty mark


Extrajudicial confederate statue restoration

the waist band before the next protest poster

By the way,

Time is not an illusion, your honor

I will save your desk for last

You are witty, your honor

You’re moving money again, your honor



It is only raining one thing: non-white cops


And prison guard shadows

          Reminding me of

                                        Spoiled milk floating on an oil spill


                                                                     A neighborhood making a lot of fuss over its demise


                                           A new lake for a Black Panther Party


Malcom X’s ballroom jacket slung over my son’s shoulders

Pharmacy doors mid-slide

The figment of village

a noon noose to a new white preacher

Wiretaps in the discount kitchen tile

-All in an abstract painting of a



Bought slavers some time, didn’t it?

The tantric screeches of military bolts and Election-Tuesday cars


A cold-blooded study in leg irons

Leg irons in tornado shelters

Leg irons inside your body


Proof that some white people have actually fondled nooses

That sundown couples

made their vows of love over

opaque peach plastic

and bolt action audiences


Man, the Medgar Evers-second is definitely my favorite law of science


Fondled news clippings and primitive Methodists


My arm changes imperialisms

Simple policing vs. Structural frenzies

Elementary school script vs. Even whiter white spectrums


Artless bleeding and

the challenge of watching civilians think


“terrible rituals they have around the corner. They let their elders beg for public mercy…

beg for settler polity”


“I am going to go ahead and sharpen these kids’ heads into arrows myself and see how

much gravy spills out of family crests.”


Modern fans of war

What with their t-shirt poems

And t-shirt guilt


And me, having on the cheapest pair of shoes on the bus,

I have no choice but to read the city walls for signs of my life








Tongo Eisen-Martin is an American radical poet. His poetry, informed by his socially and politically engaged practice, strives for bringing light to the contradictions and injustices of society and human relationships. This poem can be found in his newly published Blood on the Fog by City Light Books. Other collected works of his include: someone’s dead already, Heaven is All Goodbyes, a book edited by Anthony Huberman on David Hammons that containts work by Eisen-Martin and Fred Moten entitled, David Hammons Is on Our Mind, Waiting behind tornadoes for food.

Copyright Tongo Eisen-Martin. Published with permission by the author. CC licence is Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)