The author's first poem, at age 16.
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
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.
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
Isn’t that what they all want?
Isn’t that why they paint their faces in that
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
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
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
To stop subscribing to any gospel that
doesn’t believe my body worthy of it,
To open my mouth and speak the words my
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 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,
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.