David Adès, Afloat in Light. Crawley, WA: UWAP, 2015. ISBN 978-1-74258-946-6
David Adès second book of poetry is a ‘celebration / questioning’ of life. This five part, 128 page journey uses gentle, everyday images to test the reader’s imagination, while drawing on his own life, looking for connections between past and present, between innocence and adulthood, light and personal darkness.
The parts should be read as a whole.
In Part 1, ‘Darkness Contends with Light’, Adès reminisces about life
of imagination, of possibility. A time before standing,
before falling, before exile.
(‘We Are All Fallen’, 11)
There is a movement from innocence to regret, of a life left unfulfilled, and he expands on this as memory,
and still I read: here, the lovers’ quarrels,
here the betrayals, the abandonment,
here the sad litany of illusions
(‘Still Reading from the Book of Love’, 36)
then drawing it into himself,
I am between desolations:
between the man I have been
and the man I must become.
(‘The Bridge I must walk across’, 22)
This introspection, bordering on despair with a sense of loss suggests that life has to be appreciated; its lightness, before its true form, its darkness, can be seen. But even its true form is just an
echo, a ghost, a whisper,
hear a shadow, hear a memory.
(‘Monologue to a Friend’, 19)
Adès seems to suggest remembering is darkness interpreted through the lens of light; of the impossible fairytale of an earlier life left unsatisfied by the interruption of memory.
In part 2, ‘As If Dreaming Could Be Tethered’, the reader is taken on a journey from south to north through Central Australia on the iconic Ghan railway train. Adès explains
in this space
lies a metaphor,
lies a vast inland sea
that the explorers never found.
It was there once –
(‘Between Us’, 45)
Like memory, it was and isn’t what we observe today. What we see today changes what we thought yesterday, altering memory, and as the memory is retained, the original memory becomes a forgotten dream always changing to a new form: ‘dreams die and dreams refuse to die’ (‘In the Land of Maybe’, 30), suggesting that dreams themselves are lost in the desert of our minds.
This journey enters the realms of the First Nations’ mythology,
The tracks of ancient songlines
cover the earth.
The dreamings of the ancestors
and their children
fly in the wind.
(‘Between Us’, 48)
The loss of words is like the loss of family, a motif Adès returns to in ‘I wish you long life’ (58–61), and even more so in ‘Va, Mon Enfant’ (81 – 84) and ‘Synopsis of a Story in Three Generations’ (108–109). There is personal pain in his exploration of family losses he has experienced. In drawing in the First Nations, the loss of their stories and their dreaming is the loss of their family and traditions.
‘The Light of Other Stars’, part 3, questions the movement of life. Imagery is set free – ‘Wild man motion without pause (‘Wild Man’, 71) – and yet no fear is shown. It is as if within the speaker, there is another that is free, but not released,
I can no longer hold on to anything,
so what else but to let go?
(‘The Heart, Always’, 77)
This yearning to be free is just a dream, a moment in time drowned by the desire to know:
O for the certainty of death and taxes
when all else is shifting sand.
(‘The Hammer of Uncertainty’, 86)
This section is the low point, the questioning, at times almost pleading for release from memory and its hold on the present.
As the poet moves into the fourth part, ‘A Home I Never Knew I Wanted’, the narrative moves to Pittsburgh, USA, where Adès lived for a number of years, and there is change as if walking into light. The sense of loss is being replaced,
It is the light seeping in:
its light-fingered touch
upon my face,
The return to light, from darkness, is continued with new life
a pram around Squirrel Hill
in early spring,
(‘Walking Along Northumberland Street’, 96)
and yet, memory follows where ever he goes,
Two days before he died
my father fell
I’ve been falling ever since
(‘Synopsis of a Story in Three Generations’, 108)
returning to the first poem: ‘I fell, as we all fall. How many times have I fallen?’ (‘We are all fallen’, 11). Adès used this theme of falling almost as an apology for failing to fulfil the dream that can never be.
Part 5, ‘The Night is Starless’ contains just two poems. ‘Vale, David Adès’ (115–125) is an extended deep personal reflection on his life. The last poem ‘After’ (126) ends the journey on a note of hope.
This is a very accessible set of poems from an erudite writer. Even a superficial reading is rewarding, but with a bit of effort the reader is taken on a journey questioning life and struggling with the darkness that clouds the light of the imagined perfect life. Adès shows his skill, creating in the reader the ability to engage with struggles through imagery of the everyday. I would recommend ‘Afloat in Light’ especially for those who appreciate good poetry that seeks and questions meaning derived from experience.
Craig Coulson is now retired and lives with his family on ten acres outside Ballarat. He has written poetry all his life, but became serious about writing when he took on a Café Poet position in Melbourne’s east in 2013. His poetry can be found in a number of anthologies, and he is active in the spoken word scene in Ballarat and Geelong.