Department header
Bewildering Stories

David Adès, Afloat in Light


Afloat in Light
Author: David Adès
Publisher: UWA Publishing
Other vendors: Amazon, ISBS
Length: 128 pages
Price: $22.99
ISBN: 978-1-74258-946-6


Poems in this excerpt:

We Are All Fallen
The Bridge I Must Walk Across
Still Reading From the Book of Love
Instructions for Forbearance
Under the City’s Skin
The Hammer of Uncertainty
The Three Moons of Tenoa


We Are All Fallen

Comment by Newt Gingrich, 2012 Republican presidential candidate

There was childhood: wispy residence of dreams,
of imagination, of possibility. A time before standing,
before falling, before exile.

I fell, as we all fall. How many times have I fallen?
I fell without wings, sometimes knowing I was falling,
sometimes unaware.

I fell, tensing my heart for impact, for injuries.
I fell onto thorns and stones, into a poverty of grace,
into harsh and righteous judgement.

I fell and rose again, but never to the same height.
I rose again carrying wistfulness and regret,
carrying an endless weight like Sisyphus with his boulder.

I rose again because this is a life: imperfect, fallen.
I watched others fall, suspending judgement.
Falling and falling, watching others fall

I preach no sermons except compassion.
I know I will fall again, though not how far, how often:
I will fall and rise, fall again until I can fall no more.


The Bridge I Must Walk Across

Is this what it means to be lost?
Stuck inside my skin —
unable to shed it, unable to grow another —

I am between desolations:
between the man I have been
and the man I must become.

My life’s stories are in flames,
becoming black smoke, ascending.
Who will speak now the tales of the ancestors,

who will listen, who will hear?
Who will be guardian of their old ways,
who will tend to their burial grounds,

calm them in their restless prowling?
I am a vessel for what I carry, untranslatable,
legacies it has taken a lifetime to learn:

who will pour me out, who will drink me?
Who will read to me this new book
of the night sky, its panoply of trembling stars?

Who will decipher the strangeness all around,
who will gather all the broken shards?
How can I discard myself, all that I am?

I am becoming a stranger inside my skin,
my children becoming
the bridge I must walk across.

Still Reading From the Book of Love

There is no page number.
I’m at the part where at the end of each day
I bury my collections of grief -

tiny boned, skeletal —
along with dead parts of myself.
So many burial mounds only I can see.

The book is heavy in my arms
where once it was light.
Its pages are worn, tattered,

and still I read: here, the lovers’ quarrels,
here the betrayals, the abandonment,
here the sad litany of illusions

and here, the book of secrets inside the book,
the chapters that open only upon need,
the ones under lock and key.

The book is open, unfinished.
No one told me about the dark shadows,
how hungry they are, how they crowd around

those old moments of delight.
How can I read on? What kind of man
must I become to endure?

My bloodied heart is not done with yet,
as these pages are not done with:
I endure because I must.

I will not close the book.
I will never close the book.
Should I reach the end, I will begin again.

Instructions for Forbearance

When receiving anger,
accept that some gifts are fickle:
be reverent as a cup receiving water.
Do not spill a drop.

When feeling anger,
be not as a wind fanning a fire:
be as a flame
that douses itself.

When being a wind
fanning a fire, do not despair:
this is your nature.
Attempt to be a flame dousing itself.

When being a flame
unable to douse itself,
do not turn the flame outwards:
let it burn itself out.

After being a flame
that has burnt itself out,
look among the ashes
for shoots of tenderness.

When being a flame
once more, attempt to be
a flame dousing itself.
Remember the cup of water.


after Natasha Trethewey; for Orli

Like a crescent moon on the rise, my daughter —
so much in shadow, the rest so bright.
I pause at your bed as you sleep,
your tears and tribulations quiescent now.

So much in shadow, the rest so bright,
you go out into your world each day.
Your tears and tribulations quiescent now,
I watch you journey where I cannot follow.

You go out into your world each day,
into the life that is yours alone.
I watch you journey - I cannot follow —
knowing you will go so far beyond my reach.

There, in the life that is yours alone,
I pause at your bed. You sleep,
knowing you will go so far beyond my reach,
like a crescent moon on the rise - my daughter.


for Sarai

My daughter’s wails wake me,
wails smiting the air from inside a dream,
a submerged place from which she has

only half risen. I find her, as usual,
wedged in the top right-hand corner
of her crib, the corner closest to the door -

as if gravity has pulled her there,
toward the world outside —
and place my hand upon her

until that unknown fear recedes,
until her wails become heaving sobs,
until the sobs slowly subside

and her breath returns to the soft intake
and outtake of sleep.
Minutes later I hear her calling ‘Daddy, Daddy’,

her voice its usual imperative,
and find her standing in her crib, arms raised,
fully awake, ready for another day.

The empty glass on the windowsill at dawn,
full of air and possibility.
A shaft of light pouring in.

Under the City’s Skin

Slipping under the city’s skin
I found another city and then another,
each built on the same ground,

agitating the same air,
more cities than I could imagine,
a maze without end

as if formed by Escher’s pen,
places all to lose myself,
drift wispy as a ghost,

fall between the cracks,
marked by byzantine alleyways,
gritty pocked pavements,

cobblestone streets, dark corners
slippery slick and vanishing,
all leading further in,

like the teeming oil-skinned rats
in their twitching pursuits,
the furtive men in black greatcoats

scurrying towards the million doorways,
that for all they revealed
in their brief illuminations,

led only to the closed worlds,
the secret rooms,
the secret lives beyond.

The Hammer of Uncertainty

Oh, for the certainty of death and taxes
when all else is shifting sand.
A thousand moons you have seen

all over the world:
moon glow preceding moon
over the stony fingers of Cappadocia,

the moon rising brimful,
swollen, etching into view
the dark line of the Adelaide hills,

and again, in different phases
a silver halo, slivered, crescent,
washing the sky with light,

ascetic high on the mountain’s rim,
jaundiced yellow eye,
sickly sickle over the wheatfields,

and then, the moonless nights
littered with the applause of stars,
rabid dogs hunting in packs

on the beaches of Goa —
but look, this too is illusion:
the moon blinked, the heavens shifted

and now, can you hear it,
the tide’s roar is gathering,
the hammer of uncertainty,

impervious, oblivious,
is swinging on its heavy,
fateful downward arc.

The Three Moons of Tenoa

The first moon hangs in the sky
like an artist’s fancy, floodlit,
changing position, changing aspect,

showing off its mood and hue:
this moon craves attention, seeks to bathe
in light, wants your upturned face.

The second moon is shy,
demurs to the first and flees the sky,
lodges itself in the sparkle

of your lover’s eye - if you have
a lover, if she has an eye: this moon
is no moon to read by.

The third moon is a far-off sliver,
a crusty rind that deigns to show itself
only when so inclined:

this moon finds little favour with the sun,
wobbles in its orbit like a drunkard
in the night, avoiding lamp-posts or other light.

How grave the gravity of these three!
What perturbations, what unwitting havoc
they wreak upon Tenoa’s tides -

and yet, how unimaginable a world
with placid seas, and no capricious moons
to sing serenades by.

Return to top...

Praise for Afloat in Light

From infancy to the last breath, David Adès turns a compassionate eye on humanity. He explores ambition, failure, love and loss with “the rich poverty of language.” — Mike Ladd

This book, richly suffused with a personal metaphysics of light and dark, is an extraordinary meditation on the intricacies of affection and intimacy, loss and grief. Its graceful and eloquent poems possess a delicacy that might be written on the skin. — Paul Hetherington

David Adès’ luminous and honest collection, Afloat in Light, is chiefly a celebration of fatherhood and of paying attention, utilising Simone Weil’s notion that ‘attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. The collection extends to existence and loss, and a discourse on motive and meaning. Maps and moral compass are never far away in such explorations and like all good navigators Adès consults the moon and the stars to guide him through emotional terrain that crosses the globe via Australia, India and the United States. Poems about connection and love-familial, intimate, parental and friendship-hold their weight of history via scar tissue and heritage to allow ‘a vast and full space to fill the maps of our lives’. Afloat in Light delicately balances that most crucial aspect of life-of how the ordinary is anything but. Adès is a poet that fully harnesses the verve of small miracles. — Libby Hart


These poems have previously appeared in the following journals:

Bewildering Stories: “The Hammer of Uncertainty”, “The Three Moons of Tenoa”
Philadelphia Poets: “Ascension”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Vessel”
Red River Review: “Under the City’s Skin”
Social Alternatives and Verity La: “The Bridge I Must Walk Across”
Studio: “We Are All Fallen”, “Still Reading From the Book of Love”
Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality: “Instructions for Forbearance”

“The Three Moons of Tenoa” was also anthologised in The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry.

“Vessel” was also anthologised in Verse Envisioned - Poems From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette And Works Of Art They Have Inspired, 2016

The poems “We Are All Fallen” and “The Bridge I Must Walk Across” are also included in a chapbook titled Only the Questions Are Eternal and Other Poems published by Garron Publishing in 2015.

Copyright © 2017 by David Adès

Return to top...

Home Page