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

Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell is a Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Award-nominated poet, as well as the author of twelve SF/F/H books, dozens of poems and short stories, several articles on writing and the writing process, and a handful of comic book scripts. She is an active member of SFWA, HWA, IAMTW, and SFPA. She is also a disabled pediatric cancer and mental health awareness advocate and a reconnecting Chippewa/Métis. She lives in the Valley of the Sun with her husband, three of their five children, three rescues, and far too many books. You can find out more here:

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,