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On The Seawall’s Semi-Annual Poetry Feature
Over at Ron Slate’s On The Seawall, the new season of the semi-annual poetry feature is up, in which 18 poets review new collections of poetry.
Burroughs’ first volume of poetry is a sustained and involving exploration of three of the speaker’s relationships: one with her sister, one with her lover, and one with herself. Each is a potent mix of sorrow and need, disappointment and hope, made tangible by way of the possibilities, limits, and betrayals of the body. We learn that the speaker — whom one is tempted to conflate with Burroughs herself, as I will unjustifiably permit myself to do herein—is in an ongoing state of mourning for her sister. She parses the quality of this condition for us in “Think Away the Blood,” a two-part poem whose first section comprises small, fragmented tercets, and whose second part, which I quote here, is prose:
Driving to Virginia, with the destination of your grave, I drive into a doe. The eyes bulb gently in their sockets; wide ears bend toward my bumper. Bone and body slam against the undercarriage. Your birthday, nine years after your death. It is 5 AM. I spend the remaining six hours thinking of that body splayed in the road. How long dead. How I travel to you with blood.
This passage illustrates Burroughs’ ability to describe the horrific in terms that render it bearable and unbearable at once. Focusing us first on the soft and beautiful aspects of the doe, which remain soft and beautiful even in the trauma of impact, she is able to shift seamlessly into the more violent images of the wrecked body and the blood that represents the repeatedly reopened wound of her sister’s death. The poem does not explain what ended the sister’s life so early; Burroughs withholds such details, even as she ensures that we feel fully the force with which death enters life. She is thus never in danger of being dismissed as “confessional,” even as her unflinching, economical phrasing steers her clear of sentimentality.