Skip to content

Cruel Futures: City Lights Spotlight No. 17

in stock, ready to be shipped
Original price $15.95 - Original price $15.95
Original price $15.95
$16.99 - $16.99
Current price $16.99
Cruel Futures is a witchy confessional and wildly imagistic volume that examines subjects as divergent as Alzheimers, Medusa, mumblecore, and mental illness in sharp-witted, taut poems dense with song. Chronicling life on an endangered planet, in a country on the precipice of profound change compelled by a media machine that produces our realities, the book is a high-energy analysis of popular culture, as well as an exploration of the many social roles that women occupy as mother, daughter, lover, and the resulting struggle to maintain personhood—all in a late capitalist America.

Praise for Cruel Futures:

"Giménez Smith seeks release from the pressures of societal expectations in this collection of brief yet powerful poems. … Giménez Smith’s crisp lyrics and imagery highlight ever-present threats to female personhood and autonomy."—Publishers Weekly

"Cruel Futures is one of those rare books, rare pieces of art, that manages to be extremely intimate, vulnerable and close while also doing a kind of searing cultural critique. The poems can be tender or ironic, and sometimes a blending of the two, which is not easy."—Ross Gay

"In the body, through the lyric, and twitching with every sense of the word 'nerve,' this book sings a mongrel nation into and across its cruel futures. Like Neruda in his Plenos Poderes/Full Powers, Giménez Smith has all the mastery she needs to cast a cold eye on her positioning, and ours. In this way Cruel Futures is an autobiography that won't stay in its genre or premise, caring less to author a self than to follow turns of magic in words that might soothe our 'collisions with the living.'"—Farid Matuk

"Declamatory anthems to no nation, these songs stride as they deal and wheel with skin and kin: history, catastrophe, the body, love. 'Upturned and defiant, all types of shade, no outskirt, / vital like a saint,' the poems in Cruel Futures shimmer with Giménez Smith’s lyric attention: full of grit, sharp and knowing."—Hoa Nguyen

ISBN-13: 9780872867581

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: City Lights Books

Publication Date: 03-27-2018

Pages: 88

Product Dimensions: 5.40(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.40(d)

Series: City Lights Spotlight

Carmen Giménez Smith received a BA in English at San Jose State University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is the author of four poetry collections, including Milk and Filth, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. She was awarded an American Book Award for her memoir Bring Down the Little Birds (2010) and the Juniper Prize for Poetry for Goodbye, Flicker (2012). She also co-edited Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing (2014), an anthology of contemporary Latinx writing. Be Recorder will be published by Graywolf Press in 2019. She now serves on the planning committee for CantoMundo and on the board of RASA, which sponsors the Thinking Its Presence conference on race and art. She serves as the publisher of Noemi Press. She is a professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech and the poetry editor for The Nation.

Read an Excerpt

5 poems from Cruel Futures


I have thirty seconds to convince you

that when I'm not home, my verve is still

online or if I'm sleeping when you call,

sheep are grazing on yesterday's melodrama.

Does anybody know what the burning umbrella

really meant? Forget it. Tell me what you need.

Leave me a map. Leave me your net worth

for reference. Better yet, leave me more than you

ever planned. Frankly, I'm anxious your message

will be a series of blurs, that you'll garble

your confession, so I retract every last gesture

for your same retraction. The phone is in

the kitchen, but I've lost my way.


I was afraid for our little nuclear family

since we is a delicate tentacled organism

stretching a thousand light years, a vortex,

an oil spill titanic and also the bobbing

four-person submarine navigating it.

Once I feared you'd eat through me

with your eyes's wet mouth, so I held

you at arm's length. My anxiety bolstered

your will, and something like that is

this marriage. Anger in women is not

a negative emotion you said when I was

trying to implode against the flint of your

body. My cock got hard when you said that.

I'd been waiting for you since I was primordial.

Here's to another 100 years, my love, and here's

to our upload onto the same big network. We

becomes a poly-symbiotic life form that eludes

eternity and also occupies self with the stink

we make of our sloped marital bed.


I've tried to make my babies fall in love with

the surrealists, but they only want the acid pastels

of the graphic age. I gather their utterances

in my viscous cloud and echo them back in art

because they're brilliant about tomorrow.

I'm old to them and this will be true until

they are this old too, remembering how their mother

had been relatively young and human or maybe

they do not think of my mortality at all. We're not there yet.

We're at the place where I'm a threat because of everyone

suddenly seeing them with such acuity, their status

perpetually in flux. Each depiction and turn of a phrase

is under scrutiny and the hopelessness of correction....

Now I puzzle, I perplex, I embarrass. Then they're the world

seeing me—how much I've always hated inspection myself—

which amplifies their power but also those selves of theirs that

are starting to feel set, inescapable. Some nights,

left alone in their mind, dreams complicating their mortality,

the children wander into my bed for the harbor in my body.

I inhale them in old school want, and recall a more desperate

version of myself in love. That woman was all in, all hunger,

all vision of unity, and all this life later, through therapy and letting go

and also doing some broken things, that woman figured out

she only wanted the long devotion of family. Not to replicate

childhood, but to replace it. Oh, terrible childhood, what tatters

you made of me. In seeking love, I thought little of outcome,

only the reaping I would do. The open windows closed.

The solutions. Instead: disparate wants and strangers

connected by blood. Both times I was pregnant I worried about

becoming full of them too fast, or that they would smother me

with want when in fact, it had been me, insinuating my cells into them.

There's uncanniness in their adolescence because mine

is there floating between us. I was a frantic and edgy teen.

I constructed so many urgencies. I had a fantasy of being left alone

in the world only to set it right. My other devotion is the world,

who demands I tell it. Song keeps me fixed to the page. At the end

of my second pregnancy, I went into what they called false

labor, exploding supernova of urgency that became my only

type of consciousness, masochist psychonaut,

but it wasn't time, not for two weeks, though I felt my child

becoming herself, insistent storm, someone like the now-girl

in the room down the hall, and then I felt it when it would

really happen, which was different than before, more

of an awareness of a legitimate beginning to labor,

to the relationship we would have, really, and there was too, an ending

I felt there because life would always be linked to death.

That was the last time I was certain must be why I'm recalling it,

certain of what I needed to do to retain them. That must have been

what love ended up being in the long run in order for me to use it.

While my babies sleep I'm furled into a ball softened

by sugar and weed, trying to solve problems. I lay

in dread until morning when they tarry over TV

and time shortens our telemeres without mercy.

They're just figuring out they pinned their fortunes

to someone who's a little messy, a little loud.

They're coming to terms with the terms.

I'll die before identifying a single birdsong in my life,

but ink drips music into my blood.

The imaginary is marvel. A minute inverts my babies

away from me. So much to do, so little skin for transformation.


My siblings and I archive the blanks in my mother's memory,

diagnose her in text messages. And so it begins, I write although

her disease had no true beginning, only a gradual peeling away

until she was left a live wire of disquiet. We frame her illness

as a conceptual resistance—She thinks, yet she is an other—

to make sense of the alteration. She forgot my brother's cancer,

for example, and her shock, which registered as surprise,

was the reaction to any story we told her, an apogee of sublimity

over and over. Once on a walk she told us she thought

she was getting better. Exhausted, we told her she was incurable,

a child's revenge. The flash of sorrow was tempered only

by her forgetting and new talk of a remedy,

and we continued with the fiction because darker dwindling

awaits us like rage, suspicion, delusion, estrangement.

I had once told myself a different story about us.

In it she was a living marble goddess in my house

watching over my children and me. So what a bitter fruit

for us to share, our hands sinking into its fetid bruise,

the harsh flavor stretched over all our days, coloring them grey,

infesting them with the beasts that disappeared her,

beasts that hid her mail in shoeboxes under her bed,

bills unpaid for months, boxes to their brims. The lesson:

memory, which once seemed impermeable, had always been

a muslin, spilling the self out like water, so that one became

a new species of naïf and martyr. And us, we're made a cabal

of medieval scholars speculating how many splinters of light

make up her diminishing core, how much we might harvest before

she disappears. This is the new love: her children making an inventory

of her failing body to then divide into pieces we can manage—

her shame our reward, and I'll speak for the three of us:

we would have liked her to relish in the boons that never came,

our own failures amplified by her ephemeral fading quality.


What was it like to be left with only a stone husband,

stone postman, stone apprentice? Was it loneliness?

A marvel? You had enormous power, which people

called a curse, but you were one of the first witches.

See, I feel penetrated, and I want to survive my story.

I want to be both vegan and Teflon, Ms. Medusa.

Despite being cursed, weren't your days the wind—

lifting swirls of dust around your feet like an omen-cat?

Your deflection cushioned you with a thousand husks.

I want no window into me, not even pores. I write you

because they want to bury my feet deep into the earth

to be just grass, just earth, like that first myth that left us

in the morass. Your vilification seems like freedom.

Teach me about trapping men inside their gazes for eternity.

You should write volumes for all of us mortals who want

even just the allegory of power. We find ourselves

constrained and debased and throttled. We whittle

ourselves down into bony angelfaces with paint.

We drain ourselves into toilets. Too much, too much.

I'll end by thanking you for your gift to pre-feminism.

You are truly one of my heroes. In praise of your impiety

and atrocity masked by masks, and in praise of your undulance,

the hiss and bite of your brink, I write as your loyal

and devoted disciple. Amen, hallelujah, and so on.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Carmen Giménez Smith is one of the most productive Latinas in American literature, and her mission is ensuring that innovative poetry connects with varied audiences. . . . Her verse has been widely celebrated for its lyrical and political perspectives on femininity and feminism, and for the way it reinvigorates poetic language with the use of such devices as the fragment, associative meaning and elliptical storytelling."—Rigoberto Gonzalez, NBC News

"In her 'Poetics of Disobedience' Alice Notley says there is 'probably nothing more disobedient than being a comic poet, since no one's ever sure if that's good enough.' And I can't think of any poet better than Giménez Smith to take up this challenge. She is riotous, which is to say fierce—full of myth and truth telling and delight."—T.C. Tolbert, PEN America

"In Milk and Filth , Carmen Giménez Smith's powerful fourth book of poetry, the poet takes on feminism in ways both historical and personal, all through a lens well aware of both the contemporary landscape and the women who struggled before us. A 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee, Milk and Filth is astonishing for the beauty of its language and the ferocity of its unflinching vision."—Lynn Melnick, Boston Review