For My Best Friend

We are losing the intensive care unit waiting room war


We were doing so well

           So well we got sleepy

                       So sleepy the institution returned


In the 8th adjoined room sleeping on the 8th adjoined chair


The last five minutes just like the first


Hands behind teeth / teeth behind us


Wall plans decorated with her favorite mannerisms


Flight / within a subtle sweep


Or institution light leaps off of a dreamt thought

                                                                  ... in time


She saved my life before,

you know,

all of them ... those lives


One way or the other, every story is told backwards or twice


And waking up rough is the same as going roughly into a dream

— is also something her eyes would say


Your sister is not going home

Dive in
  1. The title of the poem “For My Best Friend” lets the reader know right away that the poem is a tribute. If you were to write a poem in tribute to a family member or friends, who would it be?
  2. In the poem, loss is a recurring theme. Which lines in the poem speak to this directly?
  3. In many ways a bond with a best friend is different from other friendships. The poet says, “She saved my life before, you know, all of them ... those lives, mine.” How might a best friend save your life (of lives ‘all of them’)? How does the phrase “saved my life before” foreshadow what is to come?
  4. How has your relationship to death changed over the course of your life?
  5. There is a line in the poem “one way or the other, every story is told backwards or twice.” How does the retelling of a story, a moment of one’s life help to ease the pain of loss?” How can re-reading or hearing a poem multiple times heighten our understanding?
  6. Multiple times in the poem the author repeats words or alters nouns in the same line.
    • We are/we were
    • 8th adjoined room/ 8th adjoined chair
    • Last five minutes/first
    • Hands behind teeth/ teeth behind us
    • Life before you know/... Those lives mine
    • Waking up rough/ going roughly into a dream

What effect does these types of repetitions and alteration have on the poem? How else could these lines be altered over the course of several readings or recitations?


Writing Activity:

Write about a moment in life where you had hope in life and then lost it.


Useful Links:


Tongo Eisen-Martin, currently the Poet Laureate of San Francisco is not just a accomplished writer but a very interesting and intriguing performer with great presence. Observer these two videos of him performing the poem “Course of a Meal” to see how he approaches each reading differently.


Create Justice: Tongo Eisen-Martin, Responding to Community - YouTube


The Course of Meal: San Francisco Poet Recites Poem Inspired By Gentrification - YouTube


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Bibliographical info

Tongo Eisen-Martin, “For My Best Friend” from Heaven Is All Goodbyes. Copyright © 2017 by Tongo Eisen-Martin. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Source: Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017)

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