I’ve spent life fluttering from cage to cage; we all have. Each is a different size and disguised with simple names, but they all serve the same purpose. Lately though, the cage is smaller, more artificially gilded. A fake room in a funhouse, walls slowly closing in to give the illusion of claustrophobia. Yet that illusion is also a fake; I spin in circles as the room and air around me recede into nothing, until I’m too dizzy and defeated to even think about escaping. Collapse.
The bars that built these cages are thick and thin, shiny gold and rusted over, ephemeral and wood-solid. We make the oldest ones with found material, atoms and molecules of nature and nurture; the rest place themselves in an irreplicable dance of the most intricate geometry. Certain corners of each cage have the most beautiful, slender, waifish rods—gossamer restraints, delicately spiraling through and around each other, seemingly made of spider silk—but these are the strongest, the spread-out spinal cord sending nervous signals. An old irreverent remark, an innocuous argument, that first unrequited crush, the papery skin of a grandmother’s hands. The footnotes of life. Spider silk.
These cages are easily confused with the elements that create a person, a character, your personality. But no: they are merely a system comprised of the agents of captivity you have chosen in this life. Some chose you, yes, but you let them. It’s easier to let them. It’s easier not to fight. Yet you’ll reach a point where there’s simply no room to fight, and then your wings will beat mercilessly against the bars like a bloody beating heart, a scream constantly caught in your throat. Does that sound dramatic? It is.
The bars though…some of them glow bright and these are the toughest, they’re the straitjackets. They’re both pure and dark love: family ties, past, present, and future romantic obsessions, the passions that drive you: art, money, sex, power. They are you, and you can’t move them, so don’t try. At best, you can mold them a bit to the right or left, just enough so you can slither through but you’ll always leave a little skin scraped on their surface. The end game through all of this is to clamber on top of them, use each bar, rivet, joint, stake, and padlock to reach the top of the cage—perhaps even fashion a key that fits and release yourself. They’re likely to crush you instead; don’t let them do that; they’re the ones with hidden magnets connected directly to your throat. If you can’t see as far as the end game, just don’t let them do that.
Most people are either lovers or fighters. Lovers will learn to melt through the bars; they’ll lie there and ride each wave of feeling until a labyrinthine escape is accomplished. Some will be washed ashore, or under the tide to drown deeply in their own waters. The fighters claw and scratch, marking each cage with a myriad of bruises and grooves streaked in sweat and blood. If they fight hard enough, stay one step ahead of the game, they can break out. The problems start when they start hacking away at those restraints built from their own cells. They may yet reach the top but limbs, organs, skin will have been sacrificed, left below, disguised as offal in a sad parody of Prometheus’s great ruse.
Lest we forget, Prometheus tried to fool the gods. Punished for bestowing lowly humans the secret of fire, previously found only on Mount Olympus. So, do you live without fire? Or resign yourself to being chained to a mountain while an eagle feasts upon your daily-regenerating liver? You’ll suffer anew each day, but that liver will always grow back…
Painting: “Prometheus,” Theodoor Rombouts