On Cynthia Cruz’s “The Last Film of the World”

From Cynthia Cruz, Dregs

The Last Film of the World

The black panorama
Of poverty,

Its warm lies and death.

Its liquor stores and detritus.

The fevering ghost
Of compulsion:

Whiskey, death, or the book.

I cannot stop—

The music is a feral, silver milk.

It is my filthy home.

I walk to the broken gates
And enter—

Cruz’s “The Last Film in the World” will trigger diverse conversations and interpretations for different readers. The title suggests that the poem wants the reader to see the poem’s topic as the panorama of a film, although the “black panorama / Of poverty” may discomfort some readers. But the interpretation that feels more resonant allows me to see poverty as an interior, private impoverishment, and as the human deficiencies of any life. The “fevering ghost / Of compulsion” that the speaker describes is “Whiskey, death, or the book,” but these words may also form the axis of a written work: life, death, our vast literary tradition.

And when I read “The music is a feral, silver milk” the poem seems an ars poetica allowing the reader to interpret music as poetry. The “filthy home” then describes the clutter, soil, corruptions of a poet’s poetry and language. All poets enter through the “broken” gates of their own writing or word-shaped perceptions. Yes—broken—that too makes sense to me. Our words are always broken and inadequate, or perhaps we ultimately want our words and language to be broken (to make poor gates, boundaries, or separations) because we do not want to keep out lived experience, our relationship with the world, not if we truly want to write poetry. And yet the poem says “walk to the broken gates / And enter—” The speaker enters, but the poem is ambiguous: enter through broken gates into the filthy home, or exiting the gates into the material world? Does the speaker seek the security implied by home? Or do they enter through the broken gates into a material world? Does it matter? Couldn’t a poem serve both purposes? Might even a broken interpretation prove useful?

Cynthia Cruz, DregsFour Way Books, 2018

JNH