Hola all, otherwise known as 1 percent of ten people who catch me here.
Check out this book review of Cynthia Cruz's second collection, "The Glimmering Room." Then head out and grab the book. You will not be disappointed!
You’re at a party. Bowie, Blondie, and Iggy Pop are being played. They might even be there, with you, when in walks “Dirty Cindy,” shimmering in a “vintage Anna Molinari silver stretch leotard with cream wool leg warmers,” speaking about the boys and girls she met in the “starving room”; her childhood, that “delicious coma;” and how “Getting off the medicine/ Is like a religious experience / But that doesn’t make it religious, / Does it?” Cynthia Cruz, recipient of a prestigious Hodder Fellowship and author of Ruin (Alice James Books, 2006), works with a lux storytelling to name the wild animals—held deep inside each one of us in The Glimmering Room, a densely populated taxonomy of an alternate heaven—place “where the beautiful doomed meet at last.”
Though the title of the collection evokes splendor and illumination, as quickly as the title’s spell is cast, an epigraph, taken from the Gospel of Thomas, heeds the reader with a warning, “If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.” This epigraph suggests, and the rest of the collection bears out, that the speaker’s principal ambition is to summon what is most hidden—to save the dying self. Lacan’s “extimacy,” kept popping into my mind as I read the collection, a term that denotes an intimate exteriority, a place where emotion is cast as occurring, or finding its analogue, outside the body.
Cruz also suggests that the speaker and her other characters revisit childhood and adolescence as a vehicle of healing, and return to those places to reconfigure what has happened. This would explain the book’s structure, composed of three distinct movements with no section breaks, that includes a repeating poem “Strange Gospels”—16 times—in different forms. The poet’s decision to return to situations of somatic trauma, both hers and of “the glue sniffing boys in Basra” is reminiscent of the feat Hercules is called to perform: to kill the many-headed Hydra, a mythological creature that grows two additional heads if one is cut off.
The first section, comprised of 17 poems, draws inspiration from the distillation of adolescent memories by blending imagery of a personal history, “When the animals arrive, I am alone / As always, and tan as a Coppertone Ad,” with list poems that overlay image after image, “Simulacra of culture: waste / Land, America. Children living in the Bumble / Fuck of train yards. / Jail Cells, / Strip malls, store front labs of Door-to-door Pfizer” to create a dismal perspective of America that is later defined as “Kingdom of never- / ending medicine, / this warped breathing / machine, this dream / ship, opium / junk, lazy and dripping / with diamonds, murmurs, / and spit.” (“Narrenshiff” pg. 41)
The second part, in my view, begins on page 26, with the poem “Chronic,” a watershed that employs plain-spoken references and lyric language to describe a hospitalization in a medical ward for youths with eating disorders:
Throughout this second grouping the wish for death pervades both the speaker and the community of girls and “boys who want to die.” Though, still, as in the first part, it is unclear where this desire comes from. The section ends on “Notes on Disaster” bringing to term a resolution, “If I’m going down, then I’ll do the killing,” and is linked to the section in its examination of the death drive, “Death disguised / In me already.”
The tone shifts when we come across a “Werewolf or Ghost,” and the maiming of the weak is done by men who “Buy me things / Then beat me / Speechless.” This is where the poems move into a vaster geography and at the same time slow down to explain in detail experiences that include characters, such as Billy who dies, “But I carry her / Black Fur / Bear in my arms.” Billy, found dead in a car amid the suburban sprawl of motels, is part of the something gone wrong, as Cruz offers, “The American dream / Is piss-stained, anyway.”
How do I mention that this collection is a woman’s perspective of trauma without politicizing gender? I can’t. But I want to provide a few examples of what I’m getting at. Cruz adorns the trauma, not with garlands, but with make-up and jewelry, as in “Baby blue / Eyeshadow and diamond studded tiara,” (“Theater of War”), “black pink pearls and beads of apathy,” (“Strange Gospels”) in an effort to make it pretty. Cruz dressing up the trauma, to bear witness to “what the trucker and those other men did,” is wrapped in a deep defeatism, as in “In the end, death couldn’t care less. / The earth takes everything” (“Shepard”). Essentially, the references toward beautification are diversions from the wreckage inside the self, as demonstrated in “Self Portrait”:
The following words reappear throughout the collection, in a kind of thematic accretion: death, girlhood, blue, memory, pills, underwater, glitter, childhood, world, and God. The following places are mentioned: Fresno, California; Polk Street; Germany; Barstow; New York; San Francisco; and the desert. The references to another world, perhaps the true world, her characters inhabit are both direct and vague: “In my underwater / Vessel / My sweet Mars, and / Soundless Daydream / Magical Sweep of Rimbaudian Reverie.” However, this ambiguity only serves to extend the sprawl of the underworld.
The risks the book takes, the risk to “tell all the truth” as Emily Dickinson so famously said, is what makes The Glimmering Room not quite post-confessional; although the poems are about what happened, they don’t delve into how it happened. In this case, the reader must trust that the speaker’s reaction to whatever has happened is the appropriate response. It is the new wave of the truth: garbled, sincere, not performed—yet done with the pageantry of a really great liar. In this sense, it turns a page in post-confessional poetry. This, perhaps more than even the poems themselves, is a testament to the importance of this book: it changes the landscape of its own genre.
In the hands of a lesser poet, someone unfamiliar with the ruching of pain, these poems might have become either too ethereal or shallow. But they are neither. As in Ruin, Cruz showcases her ability to say horrific things beautifully, “A fishhook, memory drags / Its cold ankle / Through the black marsh” (“Inheritance Or Amber Schloss”). And this possibly, considering the schemas of her two last books, is what I see as her strength, this ability to take something dreadful, uncanny, harrowing, and place it outside the body— as art.
The first time I read The Glimmering Room, I had a familiar, albeit rare, reaction: before I had even finished, I was already looking forward to revisiting her powerful, image-driven phrases such as “A man masquerading as Jesus / Pushes a black gurney / Loaded with unmarked medicine bottles.” And as a reader I feel morbidly, ineluctably attracted to the parties Cruz’s speakers attend— no matter how deviant, you want the pills, the pain, the crowning of what has been done to you, because it’s played out sincerely, and when that happens, you want to be more than a voyeur, you want to partake—perhaps even eat a piece of sheet cake in a room where Iggy Pop and Bowie are being played, alongside the rest of the girls and boys.