“I want to tell both wolves that one year ago,/my brother died in the middle of the night./Died suddenly and alone, so this freefall, over/the edge with breath-catching, body strapped/floating over steel beams, dangling, hopeless,/tricking my brain to think death is nigh! repent!/that feeling throws weights from my chest,/dropped somewhere around that second loop,/or maybe the helix, the corkscrew, the crest/where I almost vomit the turkey leg,/where I almost touch the heavens./But I do not say these things./I turn on the copier, whack it,/tell them it’s jammed.”—By Adrienne Burris
By Claire Bateman
GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Hubris)—1 May 2023—Poet and educator Adrienne Burris earned a BA in Writing and Publication Studies from Clemson University in 2010, and an MA Writer/Teacher from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2015. During her time at Clemson, she participated in a Jane Austen intensive at Oxford University as a Duckenfield Scholar. In addition to establishing the ARMES Creative Writing program, Burris was the Founding Director of Greenville Wordsmiths, an award-winning non-profit organization empowering reluctant writers and children with special needs to identify as authors. The poet is also a Moth StorySlam winner and two-time TEDx presenter. Burris is currently putting her creativity to use in bringing up her two young boys in Greenville, South Carolina.
I told my coworker I’m going to Orlando,
you know, just for the three-day weekend,
and her nose wrinkled before asking why?
asked like there was no good reason to
enjoy sunshine and rides and a turkey leg.
There are so many places in the world.
And she snickered before slow-winking
at another teacher in the front office, as
if to say, Can you believe this? It’s like she
thinks she’s a teenager, Orlando—please.
I want to tell both wolves that one year ago,
my brother died in the middle of the night.
Died suddenly and alone, so this freefall, over
the edge with breath-catching, body strapped
floating over steel beams, dangling, hopeless,
tricking my brain to think death is nigh! repent!
that feeling throws weights from my chest,
dropped somewhere around that second loop,
or maybe the helix, the corkscrew, the crest
where I almost vomit the turkey leg,
where I almost touch the heavens.
But I do not say these things.
I turn on the copier, whack it,
tell them it’s jammed.
“Judgment Day” was first published in Washington Square Review, May 2020.
My preferred meal was To Not Be a Burden:
kids’ macaroni, tap water, ketchup packets.
My brother? To Be Memorable: give him a
large chicken alfredo, virgin banana daiquiri.
Four bites and he was full or something like it.
My husband? Well—in the restaurant gift shop,
looking for nothing, he does that thing he does:
grabbing toys to dance, waggling sunglasses and
eyebrows. I death glare behind the postcard stand.
But then he takes ears with red and black sequins,
puts them on my head duck-faced and for some reason
I leave them on. I lower my to-go box and I smile. And
I have not smiled in so long, or so rarely, he says—
we have to buy them! and when I try to put them back
he marches to the clerk, he won’t take no for an answer.
My husband? To Be Happy.
I want my grief to not be a burden, for my brother
to be memorable, to somehow be happy again.
So I wear the ears, and I feel ridiculous, and
for a moment I let myself feel full.
“Hunger” was first published in “Rogue Agent,” June 2020.
Fake it until
if i could, i would splay my poems across card tables
on saturday morning, bulk discounts and red tags—
i would sell them all to bring you back, pay the river toll.
i’d return the annual passes, the day tickets, the tacky
souvenir mugs bought as salve for my sadness. god,
i would never leave the house again. just look at you.
but this grief is the last gift you gave: no returns. plus
admission is free for under-2’s and the deceased, so
i carry you everywhere. share chocolate-dipped churros
and cheese fries, sneak you on rides in my back pocket,
hold hands with heartbreak and cannonball into the pool.
we eat cookies in bed and write poems on park maps and
somehow we will get by. somewhere along the way
my howls on descent become something like joy.
the fated day he’s finally tall enough
to ride alone, my son dives headfirst
into the car, slams down
the metal bar, yells woo!
as my husband cozies up to me
one row back, coos it’s a date,
me nestled in his shoulder circa 2008
in a sticky wendy’s corner booth, fries
dollar frosty dipped. college romance
at peak performance in shared hoodies.
my son’s hoodie with mulch on the shoulder,
more mulch protruding from his thick curls,
some mustard crusted behind his ear (how?)
he is so far beyond my reach now, hopeless,
me shocked by harsh realities of his tallness.
when we’d moved, i’d rummaged through
old doctor’s notes, sharpied heights all over
the door frame: he needed to know how far
he’d come. how he was always growing just
as i did, once. as i think i still am. or maybe
i was starting, again. we jerk forward
and he reaches back, grasps my hand,
just to make sure you’re there, momma.
it’s fast. we’re all gonna scream so loud.
“Thunderhead” was first published in “Not the Way You Expect,” Spring 2022.
masklophobia at the state fair
daddy carried me on his cracking back
past mildewed canvas tents, greasy air,
powdered sugar pavements. thick-skin
men cajoling feats of strength: knock
down bottles! win the girl a bear! and
i wanted it. my chubby fingers pointed
bearward but daddy turned somewhere
other, to another bear entirely, large and
disproportionate, pilling and lumbering
usward. i cried. life was like this, made
to fake okay when my feelings were big.
the bear took off his head, tucked it
under his arm and passed a cigarette,
little bird body terror-tense from this
half-human friend of my father with
secrets to hide. i looked back at the
teddy hanging by a hook, craved its
comforts, wondered when life would
be more sure, more mine.
“masklophobia at the state fair 1992” was first published in “Kakalak,” Fall 2021.