Caged by Marsheila Rockwell

I know what it’s like to be caged

So I perform your rites of acceptable outrage
Though your anger, so loud
Accomplishes so little
Still, I send my sternly worded letters
Call and voice my grave concerns
I share fact-checked articles
And funny but pointed memes
I go to one of the facilities
And get pepper-sprayed
Peacefully protesting outside
It’s not enough, of course
How could it be, when they are holding
Children in cages?
But I know what it’s like to be caged

Some cages have bars and locked doors
They throw you in, then lose the key
Often when you are innocent
And occasionally when you are not
Some have doors with no locks
But you will pay
In taunts, blows, bruises
Should you try to leave them
Some come in bottles, some in needles
Some in memories that echo

I know what it’s like to be caged

So, having exhausted your methods and my options
In this form
I change into another
I wasn’t always this furless, two-legged ape
No tail, pointless whiskers
Unable to see in the dark
Forced to keep my claws sheathed
…most of the time
I was a cat once, and walked by myself
Until the woman
With her singing magic
Lured me, bound me
With the promise of warm milk
She was a witch, of course
All women are, though not all remember the songs

I know what it’s liked to be caged

I served her faithfully
As faithfully as a cat can
Inasmuch as a cat is able to serve
From the time of the cave
To the time of the noose, and the stake
She remade me then
Stole my form, gave me hers
And let the rabid mob take me to her fire
While she fled, four-footed, safe, and free
…or so she thought
I am a cat, after all

And I know what it’s liked to be caged

I escaped—it’s not important how—
Though that bigoted, backward village
No longer exists on any map or
In any memory save mine
I tracked her down
I would know her in any guise
Though she stole many forms
Down through the centuries
I watched her, stalking her like prey
Learned her changing songs for myself
And once I knew them well enough
I used them against her
But I did not toy with her, even though I am a cat
I simply slew her, painfully
And then I ate her

Because I know what it’s like to be caged

Now, once more in my truest form
I infiltrate their border camps
Slinking past defenses
Never meant to impede a singer
I whisper to the children, tell them of my plan
Many of them mistrust me
Though it was not I
Who tore them away from sus familias
The worst cage of all is fear

And I know what it’s like to be caged

But for those who are willing, I sing
And to their delight, they change
Stretching, sniffing, taking the measure of bodies
Untouched by hunger, illness, pain
All the more precious for their transience
I guide them from their filthy pens
And they follow me
Racing, pouncing, leaping over fences
Some clawing jailors joyfully as they go
I lead them, a pied piper of cat-children
Into the warm desert night
Into the night, but out of the darkness
And I take them, every last one, back to their true homes

Because I know what it’s like to be caged

But they should never have had to


Image Credit: One of the three images from a child immigrant being detained at one of the many Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Centers at the US/Mexico border (courtesy American Academy of Pediatrics). More information in the arts journalism newspaper, Hyperallergic,

Marsheila Rockwell
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