Sunday Poem: Ghosts of Pompeii
O me O my O molten ash,
sulfuric gas—where was Jesu
at your Vesuvius—
I ask centuries later because I am feeling
that feeling I can only describe as
a difficulty rising above.
Part of me wants the darkness, all of it,
& the heat & chalices of wine rancid & passion
rampant & courage supreme. & also a cornucopia
of fruits on the side, just before the storm.
I want all forms of extravagance &
to be the vagrant Sappho would have been
proud of or the roman beauty of the ages
who could turn any man to dust
or against himself. My sermon on your mount
would have been a treatise to the bruises
on my knees for the nights I spent the hours
making sure God could understand me
but all I got was a wink
from above & so I learned to go gently
into that good night
because in morning all would likely be lost.
In truth I could not want
bliss consistent or the wages
of the world people get from carrying
attitudes so mortal & so now.
Love candles while you can,
dream in Roman tongue & terra
cotta & do not fear the smell of burning bones.
Welcome to my love, equal
parts ash & delirium, born
from an age where animalia reigned
alongside majesty & all that glittered was not gold
& it is also partially my strega & Nubian grandmothers
& what have you. It is the everlasting
old wives’ tale of the slow dance
of death that takes on the crusted face
& tired laugh of marriage.
It is a grape stain, broken vessel
in the eye, broken ship
upon waters high
& it is also fires low,
Adebe DeRango-Adem is an Ethiopian-Italian writer and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in various North American sources, including Descant, CV2, Canadian Woman Studies and the Toronto Star. She won the Toronto Poetry Competition in 2005 to become Toronto’s first Junior Poet Laureate. In 2008, she attended the summer writing program at Naropa University, where she mentored with Anne Waldman and the late Amiri Baraka.
Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo (Frontenac House, 2010) was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the world’s largest prize for writers under thirty. She is also the co-editor, alongside Andrea Thompson, of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out (Inanna Publications, 2010).
Her most recent poetry collection, Terra Incognita (Inanna Publications, 2015), was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Set against the similarities as well as incongruities of the Canadian/American backdrop of race relations, Terra Incognita explores the cultural memory and legacy of those whose histories have been the site of erasure, and who have thus – riffing on the Heraclitus’s dictum that “geography is fate” – been forced to redraw themselves into the texts of history.
DeRango-Adem was called a “writer to watch” in 2016 by Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, George Elliott Clarke.