Shiver. Swift whip of wind. / Fangs of the low front / stinging fierce as forest fires. / Frost thickening the stoop. In his debut collection, Short Histories of Light, Aidan Chafe recounts his Catholic upbringing in a household dealing with the common but too often taboo subject of mental illness. In unflinching fashion, Chafe reveals the unintended disasters that follow those who struggle with depression and the frustration of loved ones left to pick up the pieces. Other sections of the book shine a light on the wounds inflicted by systems of patriarchy, particularly organized religion, and the caustic nature of humanity. Imagery and metaphor illuminate Chafe's writing in a range of poetic forms, both modern and traditional. A boy stares helplessly through the walls of the family home, watches “filaments in glass skulls buzzing.” A father's birthmark is described as a “scarlet letter.” Grandma is portrayed as a “forgotten girl on a Ferris wheel of feelings.” Vivid and haunting, at once tender and terse, Short Histories of Light captures what it feels like to be a short circuit in a world of darkness.
Aidan Chafe is a public school teacher and the author of the chapbooks Right Hand Hymns and Sharpest Tooth. He lives in Burnaby, BC.
"Chafe is skilful in making lyric out of memory. 'Sharpest Tooth,' which is the last section and the book's longest, is exceptionally good, blending the violence of human and animal activity in the woods and invoking everything from gun to wolf with crisp
"Chafe conveys his family's struggles with mental illness in evocative turns of phrase and metaphors. He writes of his father under the night's shade/when the family is turned off,/he is wound up like a toy" and of an anxious household where "disquietude/ inhibits our thoughts, damming us within." Even when Chafe turns to the wider world he's alert to distress, and the ravages of violence and disaster. As he puts it, "the chalice of darkness seeds many things." But the light that shines throughout the book, alleviating the gloom, is his compassion." The Toronto Star