What You Do In the Dark

He had only caught you a few times, sneaking up from behind, each step as stealth as a tiptoeing cat, shattering the silence with a WHAT ARE YOU DOING that booms in your brain but, in reality, is barely above what school teachers call your “inside voice.”

You do not answer and he does not need you to answer because he saw. On the edge of the bed—your side of the bed, not his, you remind him—you are hunched over, your back curved like a crescent moon or maybe a crescent roll with your feet dangling a foot above the floor, clipping your toe nails not into the trashcan, like he asks, but onto the carpet where your feet, not his, you remind him, step each morning and each night.

It’s what you do in the dark, you tell him.

The lights are all on, he says.

I can bring you a trashcan, he says.

That’s not the point but you let him anyway. You feign laziness. When he leaves, you return to clipping your nails over the carpet until they align perfectly with the edge of your fingertips. When you are done, you look down at the chipped nail polish-adorned toenail clippings—sharp confetti. Spreading them evenly across the carpet before you, your toes run through the razor sharp blades that will disappear when you vacuum on Sundays, only to be replaced by a fresh brood days later—virgins filed in millimeter-sized rows across your toes, steadily progressing towards execution.


by Melissa Darcey

Melissa Darcey is a writer based in San Diego, CA. She has a soft spot for Jane Eyre, coffee, and her orange cat, Milo. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Gravel, Extract(s), Litro, Black Heart, Cease, Cows, and elsewhere.

Craig Kurtz


“You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm

just because you couldn’t control the winds.”

— Thomas More, Utopia.


Last call for the patriots,

last stop for all apostates;

the last train to freedom is

now boarding from Abaddon.


Every time it rains

the fixtures blinker out;

no coincidence, this:

the governance installed the sky.

There’s rows of voices

over all the houses;

advances in bipartisanation

amplifies people’s dependence.

No, this isn’t really hell,

they got it wrong, it’s overdone;

hell is a better composition,

its design is still untried.

If you read the manifestos,

it’s evident life’s counterfeit;

unknown ideals speak truth to practice,

panacea, comrade, can be obtained.

Now, this “perdition” is a travesty,

it’s ersatz, faux and fraudulent;

real hell’s supposed to purify,

not profit small-time bureaucrats.

They got their knobs, test-tubes and dials,

vast screens to engineer nightmares;

these are cheap tricks, mere brummagem,

effects lacking organic woe.

I want a hell that’s fair and square,

where punishment’s unbigoted;

I have it here, inerrable,

in documents, with principles.

If people would just cogitate

and sublimate their fallacies,

then they’d see this nether world

an apotheosis to behold!


Last call for provocateurs,

last stop for all demagogues;

the last train crash to eidolon

is boarding now from Abaddon.


Permanent Austerity


“These are the waning days

of aristocratic socialism,”

she lamented with a shrug.

“We heard the speeches

as the ice cubes melted

and I fear our marching orders

won’t resemble plangent posters.”

’Twas then the scullery maids and

stable hands dismantled chandeliers.


“I’m inclined to agree, dialectic theory

has devolved into a grotesquery

of polity,” I assented with a survey

from my broken monocle.

“We all embraced the slogans,

shibboleths as well as anthems

but, in practice, I concede, the enemy is us.”

’Twas then the valets and chauffeurs

voted themselves out of existence.


“It’s curious to note, if not

a little indiscreet,

Lenin in the Kremlin

has domestics and a chef,”

she said with minor malice

and a misanthropic laugh.

“The fastest telegraph in this umbrageous

Soviet transmits from servants quarters

of the General Secretary.”


“Marat, too, had his housekeeper,”

I noted cynically, “and why would we expect

dictatorship without starched collars

for a bureaucratic caste

‘engineering social progress’?

Sooner the state withers away,” I chuckled,

“the better chances for shareholders.”

’Twas then the doorman and au pair

quit their posts, with ready rifles.

Anatomy of a Catastrophe


“These are barbaric days,” she said,

pointing to the effigies

and criminals in the stockades

whose crimes were but a lack of rent.

“Tight credit is the cause of this,”

I interjected sententiously,

observing all the foreclosures

which turned the commons into sludge.

I shuddered at investments lost.


“I, for one, blame the court

for lavish wars which made a sport

of brinkmanship over rare gems

not worth their weight in guts,”

she said, and not without embarrassment.

“Yes, it’s true, diplomacy

has been misused by bunglers

who curdled treasuries in vain,”

I did rejoin, most ruefully.


“The problem, as I see it,” she continued,

“is this culture of ineptitude,

rewarding hordes of savages

who disrespect propriety.”

“Ah,” I nodded fatalistically,

“here is where I disagree:

the issue of the state’s decline

owes to factors of finance;

morality is petty cash.”


“This is where sexes diverge,”

she added with a mild reproach;

“business aims the industry

of state conquests, I will concede,

but first and foremost, I aver,

psychology directs commerce

and dominance is revenue.

Patrician excess, nonetheless

has made a botch of chancery.”


And so we stood, near pillories

where internees moan for reprieve

as soot enveloped villages

once renowned for piety.

These are dark days, and the malaise

owes to the government the most

we did agree, while neither side of the

debate could quite admit, the evil was



by Craig Kurtz

Craig Kurtz resides at Twin Oaks Intentional Community where he writes poetry while simultaneously surviving the dream. Recent work has appeared in The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Conclave: A Journal of Character, Danse Macabre, Drunk Monkeys, East Jasmine Review, The Kitchen Poet, The Literati Quarterly, Maudlin House, The Recusant, Teeth Dreams, Three and a Half Point 9, Tower Journal, Veil: Journal of Darker Musings and Zouch Magazine.

Only The Tkk’ings

the clear blue sky a hovering Narcissus

sets cerulean shapes undulating the whole estero

winking the sun  seducing my eyes   sweet waters from the land

pulsing into salt ocean  slipping its way onto the land   I sit on one bank

looking across  wobbling yellow slits tight to this shore    reflect cliffs

behind me   opposite   shade shines down liquid black   sandy shore and open

water giving way   to dazzling light in action

dark underwater blues   deeper browns to fertile marsh


brown pelicans fly low  fall in akimbo  tripping over feet out taut

large floating group  some drop half-folded wings  loose skin cups  air against

water   not piston-swimming white pelicans herding fish   this a rhythmic applause

varied, playful   stops for silence   fellow pelicans take up a new patterned patter

making a community music  none feed, listening to each other’s versions—plaintive cry

a gull’s—pierces a long pelican pause   leaving rings of room  around its sound

more pelicans splash in, their own are clapping back   more gulls  kee-een into the

next rest   pelicans wait and syncopate clap-cuba-tap-africa   gulls scree-ee

each species receives the other’s new offering   never in my thirty years here

over the minutes, the hour   the numbers and sound expand   birds

hundreds, a thousand   their mass louder penetrating   gull chorus shrieking

pelicans slapping    raucous cacophony   pushing out all silence,

enveloping me   unease replaces my relaxed wonder   mind

taken from me I turn my body away

a skinned stick rosy hint of sunset dancing on it

bright towers waver  from now golden

cliffs on the other side about my time

to leave   I notice from the quiet

time has moved on so have

the pelicans and gulls   I am

only soft again   a fresh-

feathered first-year curlew

in the landscape   a

waterborne gull makes

wake swimming toward me

winds and currents push west

toward the sea, the sun at the end of day

massed wavelets bunch higher  shift shadows, turn darker

I look back to the east the water is calmer oddly more filled with light farther

from the sun. a distant invisible fountain pouring upward tiny scintillations

here the sun is closer    streaming directly at me    begins to look night

all around    a paralyzing beam’s dark halo   the known world so

close and closing  only the tkk’ings of a bushbird   a bee

bumbling for gold    come across  on the still  air


by Jen Sharda

Jen Sharda lives in the San Francisco Bay Area—its fine community of poets, easy access to nature, and liveliness in the arts nourishes her writing. Her work is forthcoming in Forge, Marin Poetry Center Anthology and Spillway. She attended Squaw Valley Community of Writer’s in 2014 and has attended the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference since 2010, working with Jane Hirshfield, Major Jackson, and twice with Arthur Sze. Jen joined David St. John’s Cloud View Poets classes in 2013. Jay Leeming and Carolyn Miller were early teachers.

A Thousand Friends

Frenzy and folly,

Gaudy music and fantastic dancing,


A moving party of

Scarlet, orange, golden, green, blue, and purple.


Glittery “dames”,

Circuit swells,

Fashion fancies,

And erect wantons

Step stately and deliberately out of bounds.


Security within,

The eccentric takes care of the bizarre.


For sixty minutes during the sixth month,

A dense crowd of friends,

Gay and straight,

Are entertained

And inspired by a life of courage.


—a mashup using words only found in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (1842)


by Dennis Bensie

Dennis lives in Seattle and works professionally in theatre. He has two books published through Coffeetown Press (Shorn: Toys To Men In 2011, and One Gay American In 2012) as well as numerous short stories and essays around the web. The piece included in this issue (73) of Burningword Literary Journal will be part of a 40-poem anthology entitled Flit: A Gay Man’s Poetry Mashup Of Classic Literature, which will be released by Coffeetown Press in October 2015.

The Quiltmaker

It took her years, but she made a memory quilt the size of their home. At first, she used her husband’s worn work clothes. Some time passed and she cut, nipped, and threaded a fine needle through her children’s clothes, too. Her husband took to calling her fanatical; saying she no longer honored his wishes. The children grew and fell away like autumn leaves. Then the cancer stuck for good. She rolled her yellow eyes, lit her Marijuana cigarette, and touched him gently as she’d once done. Her life was coming to a close, she knew. Like flash cards in youth, quicker by the day. Now her children and husband gathered by her bedside; said their last goodbyes. They loved her dearly, but none knew what to do with her old clothes. They only wanted their fair share. But she hadn’t divided them; that they had done on their own.


by Bill Cook

Bill Cook lives in a semi-rural area in Southern California’s High Desert, and has stories published in Juked, elimae, Thieves Jargon, Tin Postcard Review, Right Hand Pointing, The Summerset Review, SmokeLong Quarterly and in Dzanc’s anthology Best of the Web 2009.

Wishing Well

Dancing water sloshed

At the edge of gray

Slate, weary and washed

By a thousand coins, as the day


Gaped from the gap above. Broken

Floor-to-sky foundation, tired cracks.

Steady toss-chip-tumble tokens

Dug in deep. The architect’s facts


Ignored wish-fueled erosion, material

Chosen to swallow the glaring sun

Lies brittle and dry, a burial

Of whispered aspiration. One by one,


Tiles seep and shift to press

The tidal drag. Ten thousand cubic feet

Lost to ceramic distress,

Once upon a time wet and neat,


Now caged by empty glass walls

Mocked by ill-timed, temperate rain.

With dreams of glossy waterfalls

Intact in crass inscription, will it train


The eye and ear and heart

On what’s no longer within reach?

The wishing fountain wills itself a part

Of resurrection from the unintended breach


Of contact. At the center, a boat

Or a paper plane in copper, brushed.

Postmodern misdirection left to gloat

Over snap of sealants and lazy work of grouters, rushed.



by Meryl McQueen


Meryl McQueen is an American writer living in Sydney. Born in South Africa, she grew up in Europe and the U.S. Before turning to writing full-time, she was a social worker, counselor, college professor, researcher, and grant writer. She earned her doctorate in linguistics from the University of Technology, Sydney, her master’s in public administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and her bachelor of science in education and social policy from Northwestern. Meryl speaks several languages and has lived in seven countries. She loves to play piano, sing, hike in the woods, and cook. Her poetry has been published in Blue Lake Review, Clearfield Review, Crack the Spine, The Critical Pass Review, Dunes Review, Ginosko, Ozone Park Journal, Phoebe, RiverSedge, the Set Free Anthology, The Tower Journal, Town Creek Review, Vanguard in the Belly of the Beast, and Yellow Moon.

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