Drug-tired, at a loss, above the lucid waves.


Palms rested on the railing (like anyone
looking out at the Pacific sun-set).


Palms pressed against the railing, the      last
solid thing held, the limit touched—
drug-tired from the chronic drag of days.


Palms open to the light-
ness in letting go: liberty, relief—
but also plummeting and irrevocable;
the waves, unsparing.


Palms pressed flat up
against the wailing wall
in your gut, ulcerous,
pocked by guilt, shame—
secret pains in being.


Palms open and upturned,
good little supplicants,
what is their (secret) prayer?—
what is open to praise?


Candor?—the grace of accuracy
to say what happened? Facts
merely disclosed by the Angel
of the Police Report?


The right note to elicit
briny-air?—or that thick beach-chill
along the skin at dusk? The nouns
to summon it.


The fall is four seconds long, the body
reaches a speed upwards of—as physics
describes the case.


(The truth is I know the truth is
made through work: lucid, unsparing).


Fat palms pressed into your
eye-sockets: that dark, that pressure,
the gates of inwardness.


Posture of exhaustion,
and resignation as the palms
wash your cheeks, fingers
to lips, breathing, eyes
open on the clearing:


the lucid waves, your un-
sparing inwardness,
irrevocable wilderness.


No blaze or fire-track
marking the trail back. Palms
resting on the railing,
at a loss, exhausted.


At a loss in the wilderness,
wandering the weird inwardness
of chronic insomnia.


O sad gargantuan, worn-out
from the unrelenting haul
of days, encumbered by waves,
a wailing wall, a wilderness,
all within and hauled up to the gates—


that dark, that pressure, open them out:


yet inwardness itself,
it seems, must be expiated
as in primal-scream therapy?


Fat palms at your temples, holding
your whole monstrous
concentration, holding
the irrevocable
wilderness at bay.


Even at bay, even that primal-scream
betrays (secret) pains in being
dragged under the inertia of days.


Exhausted by chronic insomnia,
exhausted from the haul against
the inertia within depression, drug-
tired and dragged under
the monstrous pressure


of blank days and blanker nights,
and unsparing waves being inwardness.


Palms pressed against the railing,
pressed against the gate-work—being
both the case and its chronic cause—


the limit: the weight and unrelenting
pressure that bars the clearing.


The limit feels like that—monstrous,
pocked, ulcerous, irrevocable,
lucid, wailing, unrelenting,
unsparing, secret, plummeting,
at a loss, exhausted.


The case feels like that—days being      waves,
waves being being: chronic, dragged      under
inertia, dark with pressure, drug-tired.


Dusk-encumbered, pressed between the      clearing
of the blank day, the blanker night.


The case against inwardness—you
breathe (at a loss) into the half-mask
your hands make—no one can hear


as you stand palms pressed to the railing
like anyone looking out for the clearing
of the Pacific sky.


Fat palms stroke fat thighs, then
back to the railing. The waves no
less lucid, indifferent.


Looking out, even your eyes, exhausted.
Looking inward—for the clearing—
through that dark, that pressure,
through the gate-work.


O sad gargantuan can you psalm
the limit-work against the monstrous      weight
within lightness that bars the clearing?


“The Book of Lamps, being a psalm-book” is part of a book-length sequence entitled “Striven, The Bright Treatise,” which was written in the wake of my brother’s suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge in the winter of 2007. This excerpt from “The Book of Lamps” represents a fourth of the full poem; in its entirety, the poem is composed of 128 stanzas with each quarter attaining––as in the interrelated movements of symphonic structure––its own shape and theme.

The number of stanzas refers directly to the number of light poles on the Golden Gate Bridge, which were used to map from where people jumped; and of the over 1200 bridge suicides, 833 are mapped according to the location of the light pole nearest where the jump occurred. However, since the relevant authorities no longer keep an account of suicides at the bridge, the light poles have ceased to serve as the coordinates within that sad (and disappearing) record. The poem in its own way works against this effacement. The poem is also motivated by the only three English anagrams of the letters in palms lamps psalm.


Jeffrey Pethybridge grew up in Virginia and studied literature and critical theory at Old Dominion University, Boston University and the University of Missouri. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart prize and appears widely in journals such as Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Smartish Pace, Gulf Coast, DIAGRAM, LIT, Notre Dame Review, Poor Claudia, Chicago Review and others. He’s written two poetry manuscripts, The January Party and Striven, The Bright Treatise, and is also at work on a documentary project centered on the recently released torture-memos entitled Found Poem Including History, an Essay on the Epic. He lives in Austin with the poet Carolina Ebeid and their son Patrick.

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