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Burroughs, CM

Burroughs, CM


CM Burroughs is Assistant Professor of Poetry at Columbia College Chicago. Her first book is The Vital System, published by Tupelo Press in 2012. Burroughs has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Djerassi
Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Callaloo Writers Workshop, and the University of Pittsburgh. She has received commissions from the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Warhol Museum to create poetry in response to art installations. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the Gift of Freedom Award, her poetry has appeared in journals including Callaloo, jubilat, Ploughshares, VOLT, Bat City Review, Best American Experimental Writing (2016,) and Volta. Burroughs is a graduate of Sweet Briar College, and she earned her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh.


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.

The Vital System (Tupelo Press, 2012)