(Tupelo Press, 2012) 
In The 

Vital 

System CM Burroughs charts a geography of the body, and as she occupies each unknown site, the language of her poems records her visitations with devotion and a kind of alluring brutality. Her poems often probe the anatomy of grief, grief over the death of a sister:

                                              Be careful of your
            fingers. It is red. It calls to be raised
            Don’t scathe your palms; this is the
            scalding center. Answer it. Lift it. You
            will have no words on the other side.
            You will have your surrendering hands.
            The window is seething, is streaking,

            is—.
                                               (“Metaphor for Weeping”)

Burroughs responds to Helene Cixous’ dictum: “women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes and rhetorics, regulations and codes....” Burroughs’ language coils, contracts, hinges, and pulses with blood. It can also fracture and send a phrase on its own path, like a paramecium breaking into its multiple lives. The unresolved linguistic dances in this book express erotic love, maternal love, medical procedures, and violation and colonization of the female body, and we become aware that Burroughs’ poetic utterances and negotiations might be weighted with all of these expressions at once. The poems abruptly shift angles and vantage points and jump cut with dazzling and alarming verve: “Fresco / Likes it rough. Likes it / Dug. Says done right, I am 

fragments 

/ 

Of 

heaven. Convinces you. Says / Let’s have you” (“Clitoris”). And sometimes they stage their kinesis within tight rectangular blocks: “Labial. Women grapple hook / women. Plum loaf, garnet welt, / milk smear; complexion an / arousal-lidded cunt. Mode: / additive. Rectum tension; seg- / regated jetty...” (“The Vital System”). Like the choreography of William Forsythe which contains bodies that twist, pull, and fling the grammar of ballet out of line, this language performs confrontations and turmoil, subverting comfortable gestures of thought. The syntax offers up directions and guides us on a journey to the body’s interior: “pulled myself up ropes of / tendons, arriving quite near the heart. / Gazed about your / conjugate system. Adored your inside” (“For the Circus of I”), and dives into the wreck of the black female body’s history: “Post- 

/ 

Black. Fancy it. (In this position in the poem:) I / am strong enough to hurt you. I pry / Floorboards and lift out your artifacts. What 

/ am I? Do you hate me now?” (“Black Memorabilia”). This book demonstrates that a body withstands—it keeps absorbing and keeps going. With vibrant and visceral phrasing, it’s given agency. We witness and feel the physicality that’s active and activated—at one flinch it’s a lush Georgia O’Keefe blossom, and then at another, it’s a spit-out owl pellet made of hair and bone. All there, all part of the body’s theatre-machine. This startling and powerful debut book thinks body, it dances sound, it sexes language: “Your own wrist, rotal against / some metal; one of us, man / machine / ovary, guns to life” (“In the Personal Camp, Eroticism”). 

                                                                                               —Molly Bendall 

 

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