Grit & Grain: Jeanpaul Ferro on Drake A Lightle’s Self-Inflicted

Self-Inflicted, Drake A. Lightle, Goldfish Press, 2011

The latest release from Goldfish Press is the debut poetry collection, Self-Inflicted, by literary newcomer Drake A. Lightle.  A Missouri native, Lightle takes us on a journey through the nihilism of one man’s own self-destruction, through the despair that besets him as he realizes what truly matters, and finally through the baptism of the redemptive power of a penitent soul.  Self-Inflicted echoes with the haunting turmoil and restless syndrome we find throughout the suburbs of modern day America.  Along Main Street, hope has been substituted with loss and despair.  The ideals of the American family have been replaced with these ostentatious dreams of celebrity and grandeur.  All of this necessitates a pastime of distraction well documented throughout Lightle’s new collection.

Turn on cable TV on any given night and it won’t take you very long to figure out that the new religion of the 21st Century has become our very own escapism.  This new television show stars Oprah Winfrey as Jesus, Charlie Sheen as Dionysus, and Sarah Palin as Voltaire.  People are listening to the scripture and sonnets of these talking heads and then they are going about living their lives on the edge, watching helplessly as their families disintegrate and fall apart; and then they sit there in contemplation wondering why.  With no answer to be found, they then seek out what feels good, so they won’t have to feel bad, even if this only lasts for a few seconds of stardust and high.

In “Sacto Sheraton,” Drake A. Lightle takes us to a hotel bar where our protagonist sits with a woman he is in love with, a married woman perhaps, someone he knows he can never be with in the end, but he wants her no matter the cost:

we’re here with the hipsters

and gangsters,

and yuppie yippie wanksters,

trying to blend in

to the scenery,

you drinking wine,

me drinking vodka,

and thinking about where we really should be,

somewhere else,

In “Ametropia” Lightle confesses: “it was more than a little myopic / to have allowed my heart / and head / to be there / in the first place.”  We all know what we are doing, but we do it anyway.  You cannot get any truer than that.

Throughout Self-Inflicted we find that we are peering in on the soul-tearing confessions of a man who has screwed up big time and is trying everything the streets have to offer in order to make his pain go away.  In “Bug Under the Skin” he confesses: “these thoughts make me itch like junk sickness / make me want to tie up / find a vein / and cotton-cloud oblivion.”  In “USER_DELETED (Monkey Edit: Short Re-Mix)” hope and wonder have completely been vanquished while humanity is simply a tool to be used as a means to an end:

two buildings,

each filled with row after row

of cubicles,

with skies of buzzing florescent light

casting soft whiteness on gray faces

sitting in chairs at desks

in front of more buzzing light

from monitors;

fingers surgically attached to keyboards;

eyes reading words of desperate prayers –

poems and prose and plays and short stories

and novels spilling from the minds of monkeys

banging on keyboards in a virtual zoo –

monkeys searching for truth and meaning

in experience,

meaning of hate and despair and sorrow

and love and hope and bliss;

monkeys freezing in the shadow of the monolith of life

desperate to make sense of it all.

Sometimes life can be a long and darkly lit road.  Everyone thinks they have some kind of answer yet no one really seems to have any answers at all.  Words and emotions are simply props to be used as propaganda now.  There are millions of people on various highways all going somewhere different yet all these passengers want to get home to the very same place.  In the end, Drake A. Lightle sums up this journey through his final homily aptly entitled “Self-Inflicted.”

I’ve embraced my proclivity,

I’ve let it guide me—

like magnetic North guides the compass needle—

through the hazardous and absurdly vain thought

that my will might be stronger than my nature.
I’ve made peace with passion.
You can follow the breadcrumbs.

I’ll follow the blood.
The freeway is still the way home, and it’s time to go.

Self-Inflicted is a superb literary debut full of this grit and grain that usually gets lost within most debuts.  Hopefully we will be hearing a whole lot more from Drake A. Lightle.


An 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul Ferro’s work has appeared on National Public Radio, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Portland Monthly, The Providence Journal, Arts & Understanding Magazine, and others. He is the author of All The Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994), Becoming X (BlazeVox Books, 2008), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009), Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009) Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and the forthcoming Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011).  He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.