Culture, Sunday poem

Sunday Poem: Treading Water (A Poem for Troubling Times)



Mermaid swimming at the bottom of the sea


in my dream I became a mermaid,

suddenly understood/had to understand how treasure chests breathe

heavy in the dark & darker sea, just as every black pearl


understands/must understand the uncomfortable sand

& yes every siren knows to turn

her sadness into song, develop a taste for


archeology, hesitate but always come up for air

so as to surface to herself, watch the lobe

of the moon disrobe, consider drowning


the night’s last reckless sailors

with the stark anthropology of her fins—

during my brief siren stint in heaven I found it amusing


that my tears could never get seen

& so taught myself to cope with the fire

at least for a moment, by dreaming deep and long into the Abyss-


inian waters, fathoming song,

choosing what’s buoyant,

learning so long






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.

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