CM Burroughs serves as Assistant Professor of Poetry at Columbia College Chicago. Burroughs has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Cave Canem Foundation, 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 2009 Gift of Freedom Award, her poetry has appeared in journals including Callaloo, jubilat, Ploughshares, VOLT, Bat City Review, and Volta. Burroughs is a graduate of Sweet Briar College and the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh. Her debut collection of poetry is The Vital System from Tupelo Press, and she is Senior Editor for Tupelo Quarterly and Co-Editor for Court Green. Learn more about Burroughs at www.cmburroughs.com.
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
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
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.
For The Circus Of I
I was accustomed to being sewn open, my muscles splayed under
sweating digits. My mouth, bracketed tug. When language failed,
there was the body.
- flattened palm
In running, I came upon you, crawled through the door under
your calfline's truss—pulled myself up ropes of tendons,
arriving quite near the heart. Gazed about your conjugate
system. Adored your inside.
Suddenly, you had a woman in you. I. Who
loved. Who wanted loved. You and she hyphened between layer-shucked,
glow-wrought. Spoon fed syllables under the phasing moon.
She called you gratitude. Seeing, seen. Something given.
Pocketed in the jaw, stored, hoarded—you and she, linked in
the grammar of—
What's amazing. The color of your anatomy: Slaughterhouse
red. Only— the body intact, not even hanging. All the inside
parts (seminal vesicles carefully stewing) pressed in. I
memorize your: slopes, causeways, wire systems. I measure
my breath, disturb nothing, listen to what sounds like rain
thrumming your shoulders. What rain always sounds like
from under cover: insistent tapping.
She begins to itch. Wants to touch the shuddering lung, lie
against the paranoid liver. She has been so good, settling for
warmth, not daring to reach out her hand into the screen of
veins. But gratitude turned desire, she slips through a loose
skein in the abdominal oblique, huddles inside the four-walled
bunker, for good or ill, waits to be moved.