Kylie Burken

Story:     Cigarettes

Story:     First Paragraphs of Ch. 1

Poem:    Wordless Love

Slam Group Poem: "A Dozen Adaptations for the Socially Distanced"

Group Poem: "Potluck"

Script: "The Panic at the Disco"



     Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she could read words in it. And she felt her throat begin to cave in, the smoke only too much for her. Words also burned in her scorched throat as she desperately searched for a way out. The words read terrible things as they began cascading downwards, heading quickly to the navy blue wrapped tightly around her. 

     “Baby, you’ll never find anyone better than me.”

     “Baby, that door is dangerous; don’t you go near it.”

     “Baby, those bruises are good for you; then you’ll be able to survive them when they start appearing for the wrong reasons.”

     That smoke caved in around her eyes, and seeped inside her head. A spark, a click, a light. The stench of it looked like dirty dishes and tattered couches. It looked like dangerous slamming doors, and beds; no, mattresses, with no covers on them. She couldn’t breathe when she slept there. 

     “Baby, don’t cry, tears extinguish the flame. Babe, don’t you dare cry.”

     “Baby, why don’t you get me some blinds? A dash of salt? What about a cigarette?”

     Her lungs began shrinking, the smoke making the endless bookshelves grow taller and stand over her body like giants. Those cigarettes looked like melting walls, torn curtains, blood dripping from shattered picture frames. The smoke closed in around her feet and she could no longer feel them. Tears spilled from her eyes and ran down her face, terror snapping her ribs in two.

     “Baby, all this smoke and no cigarette in my hand.”

     Smoke rose and closed in around her calves, knees, thighs. She could no longer stand and let herself fall into the sea of smoke that flooded the library floor. Eyes closed. She hoped that she wouldn’t wake up in the house of dangerous doors and dirty dishes and the oceans upon oceans of cigarettes. 

     Her stomach dissipated, along with her arms and the tips of her fingers. And as the last of her bruised body disappeared in the smoke, accompanied by the loud, overwhelming cries of strangers and other library visitors, she knew she would never forgive the man who always wanted a cigarette.


First Paragraphs of Ch. 1


     "Yes, sweetheart, you got it. Just like that." 

     Sweet, filling sounds fill the cool breeze sweeping through the air. Frets, strings, strums. "Remember, the first finger goes on the second string, not the third..." Adjustments. "There you go. Now go ahead and play it." A nervous yet full strum of the strings. "Yes, you nailed that chord, good job. One step closer to being able to play the song. You're doing great for your age."

     My bottom lip curls in frustration at his words. For my age? Once again, I have the familiar thought that I don't want to just be "good enough" for being seven years old-- I wanted to be more than good enough. And not just for a seven-year-old. I wanted to be the best out of everybody who happened to pick up a guitar. In fact, I was going to be the best. 

     But apparently, the first step to getting there was sitting with my dad on that porch swing that creaked rhythmically with every back-and-forth motion. And I sat with him for a couple of hours everyday, learning new chords and riffs. Even in the sweltering heat of the scorched summer, I was determined. I was sure that the beginner guitar lessons I had with my dad were the first significant steps to being the best. The small rosy-pink guitar that I held was certainly my most prized possession. Of course, I always referred to it as a "small" guitar; never as a "child-sized" guitar, which it actually was, of course. My hands were still too small, too innocent, pink and untouched to play a normal-sized guitar.

     My father's gentle voice trained me to play chords to his favorite song, and the riff to some popular 80s song that I could never memorize the name of. His hand guided mine into the correct positions on the correct frets on the correct strings. It was frustrating at times. But yet, the cool gentle gusts of summer wind kept us cool, kept our minds and thoughts fresh. I could never sweat. Those lazy empty days in July gave me such motivation and power that by the beginning of August, I had memorized some song from 1993. And yet, entering my 2nd grade year with an entire song under my belt, I could never sweat. 

     Now, I am only looking back on those days, because that was almost 10 years ago. Things obviously changed; they had to. Change is inevitable over the span of 10 years. Especially now, this night, this minute. Bright, cool summer days melted into loud, flashing summer nights with tired boys and yelling girls. My hands did grow large enough to play a normally-sized guitar. But instead of holding a guitar, now I held a red-solo cup in my hand with sparkling, curious liquids inside.


Wordless Love


If my child should be born with the same illness as me, 

I won’t waste my time only telling them that I love them or that I care about them or that I need them;

I will not ship them off to a certified stranger so they can throw their problems in their stone-cold face 

and leave feeling worse than before


Because when I heard “I love you” the words could not sink into my brain

And when I heard “I care about you” I would only ignore it because

They had only cared about me when I had lost everything I had

And never took a second glance at me 

When I stopped looking both ways when I crossed the street

And stopped putting on or taking off my smudged mascara

Or when I sat there in the back of them room,

My guts tearing themselves to pieces 

They never cared then, why would they care now?

And when someone said “I need you” 

I knew they were lying through their fake smiling teeth

Because they surely didn’t need me when they took one glance at me

Life slowly seeping from my worthless veins

And turned around and walked the other way


If my child is born with these same habits and thoughts

That the world looks down upon and 

What society molds into shy, attention-seeking beasts

Then I will hug them 17 times an hour,

I will stay up until 4 a.m. and hold them

If the thoughts start suffocating,

I will laugh with them as I watch the stupid videos they love on YouTube;


Because love is what keeps a person alive

And love is not occasional words that look nice on Twitter;

Love is a course of genuine actions, not words

And if my child is born with the same thoughts that tore me to shreds

I will never stop doing all that is in me to prove my love for them

Not by words, but

By warm, never-ending hugs

And sacrifices

And taking care of them with more than I am able


Because the love that I wish I had received will try its best

To fix their heart again

And if my child chooses to stay alive

And somehow manages to defeat their demons because of that love

Then I will have done my job