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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.

Our People II


All cousins know the electric slide/ how
to spell/despite the stink of it/chitterlings
or chitlins/the odor of pig feet or catfish
under a steam of vinegar/ believe
blood is the most important thing/bring
family up for better or worse/better
the family or bemoan who just
won’t do right/ learn early the
power fist/dap/pound/and running
man/invent glorious ways to say
“brother” with intricacies of hands/we
cool/give elders their due/cull histories
in quilts/set records/set beats/set
rights/set Black Jesus/love our tannin
skin/drown yowls in jazz/ watch blocks
bristle heat/in the hundreds/it’s past
sundown/Mecca’s everywhere now.

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