University of Southern Indiana

"God Letter"

by CM Burroughs

I thought something was wrong with me. Dear God,
I hid my grief, usually closed behind the door of my
bedroom closet, but also under my covers at night
where I was sure to quiet my sobbing because
I really quit composure and said grief Go and
There it was pulling me to myself and I didn’t
talk about it, so when 5 years then 8 passed and I was
still grieving sometimes in the middle of the day
or walking to work, I finally went to see someone
and though she wouldn’t tell me for months, she would
diagnose me with Major Depressive Disorder, and I
wouldn’t believe it until I realized no one else in my
family was still in so much pain and I had thought
about killing myself because I was so much inconsolable
like the time I saw nothing in the road then ran broadside
into a bright red truck totaling my car but walking away,
or one evening in the library parking lot where I escaped
after dinner to weep, or the time when I considered
veering into the opposite lane but thinking about those other
people stopped me and there I was sobbing again for having
considered it and I went to my parents and said I think
something is wrong with me I can’t stop crying and think
about killing myself and they said You have to get outside of
yourself, which wasn’t wrong, I had always been an introvert,
but I would keep on the same way for years, through a therapist
or two, one who was a family friend and had known
my sister, who had me pay for my sessions myself I was
19, it was $1 per session for me to feel empowered in my
healing, and he told me to hug my mother and
tell her I love her and I did. Why would you put
so much sadness in one person, do you know
what the dark looks like and that it has its own
gravity and how once I started taking antidepressants
and finally felt “normal sadness” I was
amazed at my good mood and amazed to know
that people walk around every day only having this
little bit of hurt, and against real depression it was
practically glee and it has been 7 years of pills but I
don’t want to stop because I am afraid of the low
place, which only comes every blue moon but it’s
still paralyzing, it feels like a thrumming, loud,
louder then unbearable once I am the noise with
deathly thoughts but if I say them out loud and
weep then it goes away within 2 hours or so, and
my partner wonders what it is doing to my kidneys,
but he’s rarely seen me when I can’t get up and he
would feel helpless against the deluge and my
saying I don’t know when he asks What is wrong?
It is my brain and he would have to watch me
slope and be darkly.

I abandon metaphor for most of my second book, Master Suffering (Tupelo Press, 2021.) This poem results from that abandonment, and is one of a series of poems called “God Letter,” in which I converse about, talk at, and accuse [this entity] His failings.

I have always admired the bravery of clarity—I think of Helene Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing or Roland Barthes’s Mourning Diary. This poem is my way of exposing, sans lyric obfuscation, what I need to say. I could never have written this piece while “being darkly,” and yet this poem feels on the edge of a depressive state in its breathlessness and plunging. The line that radiates pain for me is “Why would you put so much sadness in one person?” It’s something I will never be able to answer. However, I do have a small interest in this poem being an answer for those who wonder what depression un-dams.

CM Burroughs is associate professor of poetry at Columbia College Chicago. She has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Cave Canem Foundation. She has received commissions from the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Warhol Museum to create poetry in response to art installations. Her first book is The Vital System from Tupelo Press, and her poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies including Poetry, Callaloo, jubilat, Ploughshares, and Best American Experimental Writing 2015. Burroughs earned her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her second book, Master Suffering, will be published by Tupelo Press in 2021.

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