Search for:
Back to Blog

Poetry of the City with Cynthia Cruz

In a six-part series of blog posts, Rigoberto González explores poetry of the city: “As the bittersweet symbol of order and chaos, progress and decay, community and overcrowding, the city is both beacon and demon—a landscape of possibility where dreams are born and where dreams transform, or die. The poems in this series offer a range of poetic representations of the city and civilization, and how over the centuries this man-made space continues to mirror human joy and anxiety. These poems help us understand the powers and weaknesses of the city (and within ourselves), and how the dance between people and the places they inhabit produces the greatest archive of memory, history, and story.”

This week Rigoberto González looks at a poem by Cynthia Cruz.

Self Portrait

I did not want my body
Spackled in the world’s
Black beads and broke
Diamonds. What the world

Wanted, I did not. Of the things
It wanted. The body of Sunday
Morning, the warm wine and
The blood. The dripping fox

Furs dragged through the black New
York snow—the parked car, the pearls,
To the first pew—the funders,
The trustees, the bloat, the red weight of

The world. Their faces. I wanted not
That. I wanted Saint Francis, the love of
His animals. The wolf, broken and bleeding—
That was me.

—Cynthia Cruz
The Glimmering Room, Four Way Books, 2012


The poems of Cynthia Cruz are characterized by a stark economy, even as they negotiate the gravity of such issues as drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse, and emotional trauma. In this gem, Cruz employs the fragment and a truncated rhythm to gesture toward the speaker’s sense of isolation and desolation. The “dripping fox // Furs dragged though the black New / York snow” echo the speaker’s doldrums, her slow trek through a state of melancholy that finally sees a light when she finds respite in an image of Saint Francis gathering/protecting his animals, even the wild ones. This shift from an opulent environment to a more austere one also highlights a class concern—a sense of exclusion from wealth, a lack of access to the pleasures, comforts, and maybe even happiness that could be bought. This purchasing power is also acknowledged as a false sense of security, certainly not what this speaker searches for or believes will bring her peace.

Though the exact reason for the speaker’s discontent and unhappiness is never explicitly mentioned, the city serves as the conduit or even sounding board. The exigencies of city life, its demands on the body to perform a function, to be punctual, to dress the part, and its demands on the psyche to endure and persevere, push the speaker to the brink. In a place that takes and takes, where is there a place for the human’s own personal needs and desires? And is what the city offers enough? This uneven exchange is a most unhealthy relationship.

Thankfully, there is one part of the human being that can never be defeated, suppressed, or taken away, and that is the capacity for creativity and imagination. It is what allows the speaker to become resilient, to practice self-care. That moment the speaker identifies with the wolf, “broken and bleeding,” is not an act of self-flagellation, it is not a frivolous escape. It is a blessed pause for breath, the small act of invigorating the lungs and heart in order to face another day in the concrete jungle. It’s going to be okay.

This blog post is based on a talk that González gave at Poets House in the (6 x 5 = 30) series, where six poets each provided close readings of five seminal poems as part of Poets House’s 30th Anniversary season.

Rigoberto González is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include two bilingual children’s books, the three young adult novels in the Mariposa Club series, the novel Crossing Vines, the story collection Men Without Bliss, and three books of nonfiction, including Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He also edited Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing and Alurista’s new and selected volume Xicano Duende: A Select Anthology. Currently, he is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, and the inaugural Stan Rubin Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Rainier Writing Workshop. In 2015, he received The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Publishing Triangle. As of 2016, he serves as critic-at-large with the L.A. Times.

Posted In: Close Readings