Captivity and The Captive Girl Speaks

The author's first poem, at age 16. 

1. Captivity

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,

I will be your tour guide today.

You’re in for a real treat!

We’ve got a new exhibit that’s just arrived,

and it seems to be a crowd pleaser.

Follow me, and stick together!

We’ll be entering the enclosure soon.


Don’t step too loudly. You’ll startle her.

She is fragile and unaccustomed to your


No sudden movements.

You will provoke the beast.


Look to your left and see a girl

swallowing her skin,

chameleon-ing her body,

masking herself in artifice.

She is cunning, a master of deception.

She has learned to manipulate her

appearance to her advantage.

She is just applying the camouflage she has

become so accustomed to.

Ribs jut from her chest like wings

struggling to take flight.

Her stomach caves inward

like a mouth begging to be fed.

Hair hanging in lank curls like coiled snakes.

Eyes hollow, with black sunken lids.

She attempts to smile, her bloody lips cracking

with a motion that has become unfamiliar.

Her teeth are yellow and broken.

She does not look like much.


If you watch her for long enough,

she may walk a few circles around the cage

she has come to call home.

But only if you’re lucky.

Most of the time she remains immobile,

the last vestiges of protest finally leaving her,

as though a watchful statue,

hoping to disappear into anonymity.

What is she waiting for?

Or better yet, who?


Some of you may be wondering

how we know this one is a female.

Well, when we captured her,

she was grasping a copy of Cosmopolitan in

her hands

like a Holy Bible.

Men are usually found holding Sports


That is how we distinguish their genders.


Don’t tap on the glass!

We have tried for so long

to make her believe she is not a sideshow.

We tell her she is not trapped.

We convince her she is free.

Do not ruin our carefully crafted illusion.


She will live the rest of her life in this cage,

striving to amuse,

attempting to entertain.


We weigh her against a grain of sand

at the end of every day

and tell her she is too much.

“Shrink yourself,” we say.

We feed her a mixture of vodka, concealer,

and her own blood

from a baby bottle.

She cannot grow large enough to escape the

box she lives in.

We will not let that happen.


She is the finest specimen in our collection.


She was a difficult one to capture,

let me tell you.

Most come easy, willingly.

They have been told this is what they should


They should crave this life.

Not her.

She fought.

Can’t imagine why though.

Who wouldn’t prefer the safety of constraints

to the freedom of danger?


In time, she will come to love it here,

to love the attention of the dozens of

admiring gawkers

Isn’t that what they all want?

Isn’t that why they paint their faces in that

odd way

and wear such constricting garments?

They are certainly a strange species.


The inscription on the outside of her

enclosure clearly reads:

She was not born in captivity.

Her response, four years later.

2. The Captive Girl Speaks

I haven’t seen you in a while.

It must have been at least five years since

your last visit.

I’ve lost track of the time.


Don’t worry about disturbing me

With your inconsiderate whispers

And hushed cackles

So much boundless noise

I stopped hearing anything

A long time ago.


The push, the pull,

The hands in my hair

The echoes of fingers and arms and wrists

and nails

Reaching for me, reaching into me

and pulling everything out


I’m a chameleon shell girl,

Look me in the eyes.


I rub brown dirt on my eyelids

And feel the tiny rocks scrape them raw,

White-strip my teeth of all their yellow


Flatiron the snake coils out of my hair,

I take a red spear to my lips and paint them bloody


They’ve equipped me with all the proper


Seen me brought low,

And now they want me in all of my glory.


The male zookeeper comes into my enclosure

every night

To teach me some new tricks.

He leaves bruises on my thighs and upper


Finger-shaped and angry,

To more I can do, the more he makes me

learn, the better.

They smile when I gut myself for them

Anything to please the ravenous crowds

Did you know that?

Did you know?

And I want to say

fuck Cosmo!

To stop subscribing to any gospel that

doesn’t believe my body worthy of it,

To open my mouth and speak the words my

mind forms,

the mind they don’t believe exists,

To rip a metal bar off the enclosure and stab

you with it


But it’s not so easy when the spectators are

always here

Always hungry to circus my body into


Pressing greasy fingers and wet mouths on

the glass of my cage

Calling my name

Calling not my name

Calling me the name they gave me

So much I’ve forgotten my own


Dance for you

Dance I do

Dance myself all the way to you


I look you in your ugly face,

Open and glassy and smiling at me,

And I smile back.

I tilt my head coyly and wink

And you nudge your buddy next to you conspiratorially,

And I wonder

If there were no bars,

Would you make a meal of me?


If you did, you’d know

What’s really inside me.

The vodka I drink straight now

Concealer coating the roof of my mouth, the

back of my throat

The blood that runs cold in my veins


But all you see is the polished and blank


Never bothering to notice the deadness

behind my eyes


Over time, I’ve learned how to work within the

ecosystem that entraps me,

How to use it to my advantage,

But that doesn’t make me free,

It just makes me adaptable,

Just makes me good at surviving,

In a world that depends on my existence

While also trying to stamp me out,

Down to nothing but red lips and a smirk.


I’ve become good at convincing them of my


Or at least my complacency,

My docility,

So good, in fact, sometimes I wonder what’s



I’ve made them think I love my cage

I think I love my cage.

Author: Sienna Brancato

Sienna is a proud Italian American who grew up on Long Island (she has been told she has a bit of an accent). She is a sophomore at Georgetown studying English, Italian, and Government. Her passions include feminism, reading, spoken word poetry, and awkward dancing. Her favorite TV shows include The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Last Week Tonight. In her free time, you can catch her listening to the Civil Wars while eating an entire pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and wearing fuzzy pajamas.