Not in a war zone



Selected poems



Not in a war zone

You say you are not in a war zone,

but look at all these deaths mounting up around you,

this friend and that one suddenly gone,


the news coming unexpectedly and from

unexpected sources, and with each passing,

other deaths: the death of friendships,


of anticipation, the death of familiar voices;

and look how the shirt you are wearing is rent,


how it has become a garment of mourning,

half slipping off your shoulders,

the skin and bone of your dreams poking through,


pale, depleted, smeared with ashes,

right here in this lively city far from any front,

supposedly far from the lunacy of war.




This is the life

The curve of comprehension begins so steeply

it is almost visible.


I watch my son's eyes at eight weeks soaking

in light, tracking movement, engaging,


and listen to him vocalise, his own language

so rich and nuanced, so mellifluous,


so unrestrained and musical, each separate

cadence of desire or need its own note.


Already he smiles, responds, burbles at the world

as if it is fruit ripe for picking,


as if it is his natural domain, however helpless

he may be, however incomprehensible it seems.


It is like watching something enhanced, something

expanding and taking shape before my eyes,


promise it will take decades to fulfil,

only a small part of which I will witness:


so how can I think at this moment of decline,

of constriction, of life diminishing,


of the mouse and his keeper in Flowers for Algernon,

of the end that lies within the beginning


biding its time, waiting to manifest,

as it has with my parents, as it is with me?




Tonight, the universe is vast and dark

I hold loss again in my arms

as it holds me though not the way

a lover does or did when still


my body was held that way

and loved and felt itself

an object of desire


as did the flickering soul within

that way it thinks may never

come again and so loss comes


with its bittersweet comfort

of being always there

and never once abandoning


more bitter because it is not alone

but in the company of longing

that too will not desist


and pines for that way again

and will not rest as time does not

time growing short


whilst memory turns and turns

in its trembling hands

the burnt out embers of love


puzzled that it has come to this

so soon and yet again

and that way is once more a dream.




So the road diverged

So the road diverged and he went a different path,

and then another, taking turn after turn

into deep forests steeped in shadows,


further and further from everything familiar,

and he came across men, women, children

who walked with him for a time before vanishing,


who shared food and drink with him, the books

of their lives, knowing these as things of value,

currencies of sorts, and he told his story


until he became tired of the telling,

thinking it would leave no mark, make no difference,

thinking it would become worn like all those stories


he tells himself, changing with each telling,

and the further he went, the further it seemed

he left himself behind, until this became his story,


the strange sound of his name on his tongue,

obscure scars on his skin, erratic drip feed of memory,

and he came at last to a clearing, gathered sticks,


made a fire and sat before its warmth,

stilled himself, each passing tremor of being,

dreamed of metamorphosis, renewal, erasure,


only to get up again, whoever he was now,

whoever he had become, and continue on,

all the diverging roads of his life.




The storyteller

The storyteller gives herself to each story,


becomes one with it, absorbing

narrative and characters into herself


until all becomes real in her voice.


She becomes each story she tells,

mesmerising the children, the audience,


giving them laughter and tears,


giving them faith and belief

until they too become each story.


In her voice, the stories merge


and mingle, braid themselves onto lives,

reach out and draw in,


and those bewitched by her


move as in a trance, the stories

of their lives ripening for the telling.



David Adèsis the author of Mapping the World, Afloat in Light and the chapbook Only the Questions Are Eternal. His poems have been widely published. David has won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor's International Poetry Prize and been highly placed in several other prizes.

Topic tags: David Adès, poetry



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Existing comments

Thank you for these gentle perceptions and reflections on ways of being present in the world and responding to the possibilities we encounter on that journey.

Jena Woodhouse | 27 February 2019  

These are stunning! Celebrations and laments of loss, new life, decline, and perseverance. Bravo!

Charlie Brice | 01 March 2019  

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