HOW THE END BEGINS
Cynthia Cruz

Four Way Books, 2016

The poems in Cynthia Cruz’s fourth collection are death-obsessed, a “sweet chorus / of horrors.” These voices, fierce and traumatized, don’t strive for any kind of renewal; they, rather, write to “die / Into [their] own sweet making”:

Driven inside

The dioramas of my pretty
Poems now:

Solitude, finally
Inside my white castle of glass.

This is it:
Death, the new medicine.

In this way, the collection challenges cleaner, easier presumptions about the purpose of lyric as regenerative, or therapeutic, instead employing tones both Celanian and Plathian, macabre and conclusive: “Schätzchen hear me out: // You will never hear from me, again.”

Cruz’s dark vision has a small vocabulary. Her style functions as a kind of “non-stop theater of compulsive / Repetition,” repeating words such as “diorama,” “dirt,” “seed,” “death,” “music box,” “cathedral,” “mansion,” and “fortress,” subjecting the reader to the trauma of the poet’s cyclonic imagination. Sometimes the poems purchase these limited vocabularies with sinuous, short-circuiting syntax: here, the gratuitous pronoun “it” enacts the psychic dissociation it describes: “I will drive it out of me, my mind.”

The collection’s imagery reads like a recurring nightmare, a procession of haunted stills:

Pale, blonde phantom
In sleeping gown, I am

Barefoot at the precipice,
A cloud of invisible

Long-haired, white rabbits
Leashed to me.

These poems are dark, gothic, surreal—dreams so lucid and simple, they touch myth. It’s Cruz’s coup that a poem ending with the lines “Years later, we rode in a gold / Mercedes into the blackening chaos of the night” doesn’t strike the ear as clichéd or melodramatic. The elements of its vision are so deeply felt and forcefully spoken, familiar language feels, in its light, intense and new.

Tonal range is not the collection’s aspiration. It seems, rather, happy to flaunt its singular voice and narrow vision in the face of any expectation that the collection should vary its language. Even in its closing movement, a set of epistolary poems addressed to “Emily” that does, incidentally, add another register to the otherwise monovocal collection, Cruz repeats verbatim an entire poem. The date of the epistle changes, but the poem, reprinted eight pages later, is otherwise the same. The amnesiac echo functions as both a kind of psychological realism and incantatory performance art. To experience this feminist imagination is to step “inside the warm lung of the chronic,” where the reader breathes in the “beautiful toxin” of each inevitable word.