Help Us Stay Paywall-Free

We rely on readers to keep our website open to all. Help sustain a public space for collective reasoning and imagination—make a tax-deductible donation today.

Image: Selena Phillips-Boyle (#lifebyselena)

Two poems by Adebe DeRango-Adem

Selected by Sonia Sanchez as a winner of the 2021 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest

Editor’s Note: Adebe DeRango-Adem was selected by Sonia Sanchez as a winner of the Boston Review  2021 Annual Poetry Contest. Due to their complex formatting, we encourage reading these poems on a computer screen.


THESE   LINES   BE   A   LONG   TIME    COMING   /   they   come   from

primordial scream        forecasts      varieties of false teeth                &  a  taste

for       self                      the dark fascinating                      rhythms     insurgent

throughout my genealogy /             a lingering auricular-oracular           line

that begins                                      in a village                        with a great-great

uncle who dealt in kinetic    currency / saw all through third eye

          & spoke            with an older                      axumite                 knowledge

          & my father before he was my father       belonged to a people who

had    names             for  all  the  stars  above  hambaricho  mountain   /   knew

their   place           in the lineage    & were known to                             frequent

 frequencies     beyond         the  small  arc                       of western suffering / 

moved                 as unburied marvels                       & kept moving on

              missionaries     stepping outta line               & finally carved

              as though by magic      churches from underground                         rock

                       threw rome a bone                & called it a day              & when the

italians came again in 1896              they had slim picks & lost                   trying

to decipher the spirit                         on ethiop’s lips                             / so should

you wonder              what country I am                    reeeeeally from             you

will have to play it way-wickawickawicka-wayyyyy back               to the age of

mystics &                  wizards by trade                           to come from my country

is to arrive at the beginning                 of multitudes                 these            pages

once    upon    a   tree          but     the       rhizomes            beneath

            a       scattered                     network              of                             howls


HEAR          ME          OUT         /          DEAR          BREAD         OF          LIFE

pantry on carnegie            ave  /  dear   botanical                                 gardens    /

thing of curatorial beauty         I can try & tune                                  out         the

loud swirling         of trees  /  green  as  money                   /  that  beautify  the

broken                       streets  /  try & drown                            out   the   sound  of

the vacant                               rowhomes empty abodes  /  of dead millionaires

            with songs      on the radio / but when that song                about      the

rains                   in africa       comes on / I begin                dreaming  of     axum

nubia / how we reigned                                  / in reality  I am facing  lake  erie

             & the marina /  where two Black men          in thick           camouflage

coats fish & talk             about God                     /    in  reality  they    are    likely

/ conversing in murmurs / grunts             in veteran speak / & by this time

it is raining                    ever    so     slightly      on     euclid              I      pass

two more elderly                     men / with soft branches                 for   a   body

 / & in an abstract maternal                gesture / as if to say              sorry

for the war                    that conscripted you             so  as  to   script  your  life

/ into a theatre of pain


(or is it / the pain we share / I see /

in which I am / your understudy)


                                                             / a production in which you are known for

                                                            your famous last lines


(or do we need / to switch up

that storyline)


                                                                  / including  the  one  that  “philanthropy”

                                                                 wasn’t        the        result        of        “giving”

                                                                                 Black   people                      hell


                                                & still we gave


                                                                                you           our children

                                                                                                             who   became   your


                                                 even gave you our             musics

                  let you mimic   our medicinal                                 blues


          what       say       you         amiri

                                                                                    I            can            hear            you

                                                             sonia          hear          you          hughes


                        is  it  because  we  made  you  that  you  don’t  want  us  because


                                                     need us                      like   sight


                                                                 needs darkness                 to     make     sense

                                                                                                of    light

Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer and former attendee of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (Naropa University), where she mentored with poets Anne Waldman and Amiri Baraka. She is the author of Vox HumanaEx Nihilo, a finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize; Terra Incognita, nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award; and The Unmooring. A poem from The Unmooring was featured in the 2019 Poem-In-Your-Pocket anthology, co-created by the League of Canadian Poets and the Academy of American Poets. Adebe served as the 2019–20 Barbara Smith Writer-in-Residence with Twelve Literary Arts (Cleveland, Ohio) and was selected by Sonia Sanchez as the winner of the 2021 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest. She lives in Toronto.

Donate Today

Sign Up for Our Newsletters

Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.

Most Recent

Israel's weaponization of images since October 7 obfuscates its genocidal campaign against Palestinians.

Ariella Azoulay
Thad Williamson

On the situation in Germany in the wake of October 7.

Just in time for the holidays, get any three print issues of Boston Review for just $35 – that’s 40% off the cover price!

Before December 9, mix and match any three issues for one low price using code 3FOR35.

Just in time for the holidays, get any three print issues of Boston Review for just $35 – that’s 40% off the cover price!

Before December 9, mix and match any three issues for one low price using code 3FOR35.

"An indispensable pillar of the public sphere."

That’s what sociologist Alondra Nelson says of Boston Review. Independent and nonprofit, we believe in the power of collective reasoning and imagination to create a more just world.

That’s why there are no paywalls on our website, but we can’t do it without the support of our readers. Please make a tax-deductible donation to help us create a more inclusive and egalitarian public sphere—open to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.