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Burroughs, CM

Burroughs, CM


CM Burroughs is Assistant Professor of Poetry at Columbia College Chicago. Burroughs has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Cave Canem Foundation, and the University of Pittsburgh. Her first book is The Vital System from Tupelo Press, and her poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies including Poetry, Callaloo, jubilat, Ploughshares, VOLT, Bat City Review, and Best American Experimental Writing 2015. Burroughs is a graduate of Sweet Briar College, and she earned her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her second book of poems, Master Suffering, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press.


At six months gestation, I am a fabrication born far too soon.  My body, a stone in a steaming basket.
I remember you.


—A black kaleidoscope.  Turn.  Turn.  The dangerous loom of the loom of you.  Patterns pressing upon—me inside.  Nothing luminous as my mother’s womb.  This second attempt at formation; a turn.


The nurse slides her wedding band past my hand, beyond my elbow and over my shoulder.  I am 1lb. 12oz. and already feminine.  Knowing nothing of it.  I am trying to be clear—

I was first fascinated then afraid of the shapes’ rise from your darkness.  And their growth toward me.  I wailed under their weight.  My eyes were shuttered by lids.  My skin was translucent; anyone could see me working.

How can I ask you from inside the poem—what senses did I have so early…so unformed.  I was tangled in tubes (that kept my heart pumping; that kept my lungs from collapsing; food to the body; oxygen to the brain.)

You are everything and nothing.


A surrogate.  A packaging of half-made sensory detail; a past.

I have scars on my belly in shapes of fish…where sensors tore thin skin.  What a tragedy to be powerless.  And yet, I controlled the choreography of everyone around me (the check of vitals; arms through the arm ports; my parents’ speech; also, there were surgeons.)

I am trying to tell you something important.  About after they opened you and took me out.  I was infected.  Could command nothing of my legs.  For years.


The surgeons, thin blades shining into nothing.  Imagine the cuts—blood spread along the lip of each, spilling as my skin parts.  Someone bringing cotton to catch it.


Is it your fault?  I don’t know.  I was in a state, I’ve explained.  I don’t know what you let in.  …Perhaps.  Do you know lovers ask about these scars.  Touch these raised scars.

So much has happened.  I’m black.  I have a dead sister.  I love you, but, and believe this, I mostly want to talk.



Once I find the maze opening to the canebrake, I see we
are still quite removed from Escape.  You are black under
the chassis…detergent and oil puddling across your black
skin.  You are so beautiful I say it, You are so beautiful.  Body.


I join you, stick my fingers into the organs or engine, everything
so warm so dark I can’t tell.  I move my hand in to the wrist, fix it
when your mouth opens with sight.  Your own wrist, rotal against
some metal; one of us, man/machine/ovary, guns to life.  I feel that

we will get away.



You must have in your muscles your threshold of pain.
Said, when the light, hole or gracious hand appeared, Yes.
First looked behind you to the macramé of tubers, rigs
and your body’s openings, that were made openings,
through which slender metal mouths sucked or spewed,
all the black-black, the sterilized tears, the life and life-
lessness of that place.


Must have looked on all it amounted, surveyed the
wilt, rot, measurable ravage, and looked away.  What
intelligent sickness.


Rather—what is in front of you answers how the water
and the wood bridge leading to the water signify a freedom
only felt when going under: Count backward from 100. 


100, 99, 98… It doesn’t take what you think it takes
to leave the body.  What it requires is that you admit
yourself, the bleak shelter of your body against
the calm…92, 91, of what impresses your optic nerve:
Yourself, woundless.  And saturating that desire
further corrected colors.

Master Suffering (Tupelo Press, 2020)
The Vital System (Tupelo Press, 2012)