Chapter 6. The Airless Aviary
Part 1. The animal within
I feel sick. It’s like a wind blew over the Chaucer’s candle inside me, making it flicker, threatening to blow it out. A fear swept over me. I feel like vomiting my heart out of my husk. The monster, Trump won his horrible Presidential campaign. It is a reminder, if nothing else, that our civil liberties, so hard fought for, can be taken away in a breath by an alpha white male. A silverback thumping his chest… a rooster crowing from his high perch atop of his tin hen house.
As I write this book I wonder about the issues I explore, why I bother, and how my efforts will go at effectively targeting some of the mindsets and laws that prevent women from being at the top. We spend so much time concerned with reaching the top that we fail to look at what we are standing on to get there. Are these rungs of our ladder made of wood — or of other people — of bodies? Are they made of each other? What is at the bottom that we are all so desperately climbing away from? And if it really is so deplorable, why do we leave so many there? What if we flipped it all on it’s head… would society flip as well?
Human society does have levels, and there is a level where women’s bodies are just fodder. To me it’s not a level but part of a larger industry, offering many forms of employment and it really should be as simple as that. But as it is perceived to be a lower level of existence, and although it is the fifth largest industry in the world, the employees are rarely considered when it comes to workers rights.
As to it being ‘low’ in my view it is pointless to condemn it, when it will always exist and always has. I’m talking about the first paid job for women— prostitution—the Sex Industry. Perhaps rather than waste our breath with condemnation, perhaps all that is needed is to change the way it operates. I know we need to- and I know we can. Stripping is not really that base level, it hovers between performance and sexual service, but legally and in the general mindset it is in the cast shadow of ‘prostitution,’ and is as such tainted and problematic, but in many people’s minds stripping / sex work IS that bottom level.
I know the system can be changed because I did it here in NSW— well, I was a small cog in the machine- and this book is that story.
As for that ladder, I don’t think women can freely succeed in climbing the ladders of the male world, until we claim the rungs that should be ours — and protect them. This means addressing the rights of women on all levels of society, especially those that thrive on the female presence — and the control of it; birth, nurture, care giving, death, spirit… and of course, glorious, wonderful sex.
How can women make it at the top, with our own voice intact, if we don’t address the status of women at the perceived bottom? What if instead of trying to rebuild society from the top down, we rebuild from the ‘bottom’ up? Why do we have a bottom or a top at all? Is it really because we are monkeys and that we have evolved from pack animals. Therefore, we cannot even imagine another way to be. All we know is hierarchy. Society has tried to live without it and failed. As hard as we struggle for our humanity to win, much of our negative behavior is still driven by our simian hard-wiring.
Women may not often reach the top — but we do populate the ‘bottom’ in vast numbers. There is a bottom. And it is ugly. And many, many women exist there. The ceilings there are not made of glass, but of a thick film of suffocating oil- so even if you do emerge from that murky undercurrent full of sharks, your feathers are tarred — like one of those sea birds you see after an oil spill.
Society keeps itself safe from contamination of this undercurrent by socially sealing it off. But in this level of hell is the truth of what holds us back and also they key to so much of our power — our bodies; and within them- our hearts and our sexual organs. At the bottom our bodies are a commodity. Although in the West we are the ones who often choose to commodify our own bodies, we are often the ones who reap the least reward. The infrastructure, the clientele and the legislation around our commodification is all about the rights of the male, the rights of the premises, or the rights of society to protect itself from us. There is little to support the many types of professionals classed under the term ‘sex worker.’ I speak from the female perspective as it is the one I have, but I imagine such difficulties are also faced by male sex workers and trans. No, in my country I have never “done sex work.” but in every other country I go to, my status as an entertainer is dubious and fragile, and as such so are my basic human rights.
I, your brave little clay foot-soldier, at the dawn of my awakening, my hardening, was just starting to gather weaponry. I thought feminism was going to be my armor, and that other feminists would be my sisters in arms. But I found that was not the case. Most other feminists were ignorant. They thrived and reveled in their ignorance; they felt they could tell me how it was, and what the sex industry was about, when they had no experience of it at all and ignored any voice that contradicted their own beliefs- even if that voice was crying for help.
Their beliefs seemed to just mirror the patriarchy and made use of condemnation in the same way- to dismiss this troubled area of predominantly female employment. In fact, they engaged all of the same tactics used to grind ‘abhorrent’ female behaviour into a place where they did not have to defend it. I did not understand how feminists could call themselves that, throwing strippers in the same boat as prostitues, and being so damning of all women in the sex industry — women in our societies often with the most need for support. The women most at risk — because they matter the least and anyone can do anything to them without being held accountable.
Whilst at university I found the academic feminists to not be at the forefront of the battle between the sexes at all. They were like the generals who stand at safe distance with binoculars and maps, moving plastic soldiers and toy cannons into place, trying to dictate how we should fight this thing. Their battalions are other women who follow their written dogma. Whores are the rebel forces, and strippers — we are caught in the trenches where the crossfire happens seeing all sides and pretending to be blind in our feigned neutrality.
1. Sex industry break down, why it exists — an objective view:
Males have urges… or so I’m told.
These must be satisfied. No questions asked. Males have needs — like food and water and air, males need sex. If some males are not sated they will become frustrated and turn wild. I don’t know if they do or don’t have urges — I’m not a man. I don’t know what men feel. I don’t know if there is any truth is what I have been asked to believe.
Supposedly some males cannot be expected to just whack off in the toilets when they have an urge. This is substandard. For these males warm bodies must be provided to cum in.
The owners of these warm bodies are socially tainted. They supply to a demand- some by choice, many not by choice, many whose choice is removed from them through fear or dependence. To many of their clients, choice does not matter, cumming in a warm body is what matters.
2. Condemnation is to be worn by the supplier — not the demander.
The supplier, their trade- though deemed essential by this natural law of sating urges, is illegal.
Thought: If all of the sex workers (male and female) in all the world disappeared tomorrow would society would be a safer place? If said males could not be sated would there be pandemonium? Would they go wild as suggested? Would there be abject rape?
Do you think rape itself would be still considered a crime in a society precludes that men have urges, and they have the right to be sated, and warm bodies are needed/ must be made available to supply without complaint so that male society is kept manageable? Those bodies do not have the right to complain. Those bodies tempted the urges of the male, so no injustice has occurred if rape happens.
What would our bodies become in a world with no sex workers? Could some males just grab us by the pussy and it would be no longer a crime? Are we already in that world and we’ve been kidding ourselves all along? If it happens to us, it is because we have a pussy, and therefore we have the responsibility to guard that pussy? Any complaint challenges the fundamental laws of male entitlement and should be dismissed.
On thinking of Trump, and his level of male entitlement, he succeeded because he has tapped into the inner ape of so many, but Trump also succeeded by encouraging so many to indulge in their entitlement, in the same stroke he divided the minorities— and as we stand divided, we were conquered. But I wonder if all minorities joined together, rather than screaming separately, would we still be a minority? Joshua didn’t bring down the wall of Jericho with his own voice — he just got everyone to shout the same thing, at the same time, at the same obstacle.
In my ponderings about our simian hardwirings, our inner ape I think it’s interesting that the word ape is in rape. In studying the psychology of the rape perpetrator, clinical tests have shown that many often physiologically lack the ability to empathise. The receptors in their brains that are associated with empathy are deadened, stunted, or just never grew, and so when the chemicals are released that generate feeling, they have no-where to be received and nothing is felt. These perpetrators do not have the ability to feel for their victims above and beyond the rush of pleasure they get from inflicting pain and fear on another.
I wonder often if this means emotionally intelligent people are a mutation, and that is why the less evolved find us frightening — because we smell different, we bear the scent of change, and it makes the ape in them deeply hostile. But I digress — fuck the animal in our hide. Fuck apes that rape. Fuck Trump the trumpeting rump. I was telling a story. I had my own belligerent monster to fight… with many more to come. Kings Cross, rabbit holes and finding myself impossibly small…
Part 2. Testing wings
What was I doing to myself?
I felt like a bruised Alice at the bottom of the rabbit hole peering through the keyhole of a locked door, upon a beautiful garden where the roses would only ever see me as a weed. Stripping had many different styles and types of work — all of which I will explore on my journey through this book. I had entered the world of the working showgirl as a party stripper — the lowliest kind of stripper, second only to the peep show girls.
I belonged to Jason. Belonging to a monster is a terrifying prospect. He knew where I lived, he knew where my family lived, he knew my full name, he knew where I studied. I was frightened of him and too ashamed to call for help — besides I realised fairly early on that no-one could really help me but me. I felt trapped. I was trapped.
How had I let this happen to myself? Why did I let it continue? I had originally had a thread of hope that if I could just finish university everything would change.
But I was not doing well at university, I was not a star pupil. After all I was born with the freak of beauty at a time in women’s politics when beauty itself was the enemy. I tried dressing down and making myself small to please them, but this only seemed to validate that the ‘feminists’ entitlement to maltreat me and other young women. I made myself invisible — but ultimately, what was the use of that?
I was ignored in classes with feminist teachers then openly criticized and humiliated in front of the class. I was deliberately singled out. My work was torn to shreds in open assessments. I recognised that this was also happening to other beautiful class mates Annalise Braakenseik — an up and coming swimwear model, and also to Bill Granger, a young painter, who worked as a kitchen hand at night to support himself. It’s interesting that all three of us became world famous for what we do — where as the students who were celebrated in those classes have mostly vanished into the mundane normalcy of nine-to-five jobs. We had no way of knowing that we were the ones who had something special, at the time we were treated like shit by the psycho-feminists who ruled the school. We felt like nothing.
As invisibility really wasn’t working for me, I decided to fly in the face of it all and become the embodiment of EVERYTHING the feminists were so threatened by. I wore lipstick every moment of the day. I would come to school in lingerie and high heels with a black leather jacket. I would wear see-through blouses that showed my nipples and short skirts with no knickers.
I’d turn up to my assessments off my face on acid in PVC bondage gear and thigh high boots and come the moment of presentation I would unveil underwear made from melted Cupie dolls. I presented corsets covered in hundreds and thousands, and made my assessors lick me. I offered nude, open leg shots of myself in photography using my cunt like a vase and filled it full of flowers. I made silver casts of my vagina to be hung for exhibition in sculpture. In film I remade cum shots from porn to a looped soundtrack of yapping dogs.
The final straw was when an advertising company offered to advertise the college by distributing postcards of each student’s work all over Sydney. I submitted a drawing of me licking my own cunt with the tag ‘Lick Your Twat’ underneath. There was a war over it in the staff room. The College decided they needed to do a cull and my friends and I were on the top of their list. Annalise and Bill got so jack of their maltreatment they left for Japan. Tallulah was faring better, but Tallulah had more credibility than me- even so she was also leaving for Japan with Pussy Galore leaving me alone with these university assholes.
The lecturers started a campaign to fail me, but it was my queer male lecturers who understood my work and got behind me. These lecturers saw me for what I was — a voice in the next wave of activist artists taking on the judgment of women. Tallulah and I were the new voice of feminism in Australia and the old-school feminists hated everything we represented.
My allies responded to the pressure to fail me by giving me high distinctions — which I have to say my faux porn deserved. Finally, it came down to a single lecturer named ‘Jane,’ who was pressured to fail me at the risk of losing her own job. She kept her job, and even though I had cervical cancer at the time (a pretty fucking valid medical reason for an extension to submitting my assessments), and even though I did all of the work — I was failed and asked to leave.
To the old school ‘feminists’ I will quote my feminist teenage self:
“Stop screaming at the birds around you to get out of the patriarchal cage and to get into yours. You yourself are caged. The door of your cage is open- the hinges swing on your mind. All you have to do is choose to fly out of it.”
“FUCK THEM” I thought — my shoe box labeled Japan was nearly full of big fat notes, and as far I was concerned most of these bully ‘feminists’ were the losers of the art world. If they were such amazing artists- why the fuck were they teaching? And I never for a moment did I think that what I was doing was wrong. I had more information than they did. As far as I was concerned it was they who were living in the dark — even if ‘the light’ was neon lit whoredom.
On becoming a stripper, I had already decided that no-one had the right to tell me how to be with my body — that wasn’t going to change because those voices were feminists. In a world where men fucked me with their eyes, and walking down the street felt like I was being gang raped, I decided to cash in on it rather than be its victim. I knew what I was doing.
If this genetically ‘beautiful’ body was going to be the most problematic thing in my life, I was going to use it to get myself the out of the oil slick. If my body was really the reason why I was stalked and obsessed over on one side, and then so passionately despised on the other, this thin bird-like body of mine obviously held a lot of power. If I could master that, and grow back the feathers that had been clipped at the convent, I could be the one with the power to determine the outcomes in my life.
So I continued in Kings Cross, working for the monster Jason. I picked up any spare shows I could. I started working day shifts behind the bar in the Stripperama. Daytimes were a dead zone and the club was patronized by little old men with nothing else better to do than sit in a darkened theatre and wank off to porn.
I was given four shows a day, $20 a show, and ran the bar. Occasionally Elizabeth or Chastity would do a show and impart some advice. They’d help me with my hair, my make up, teach me how to care for myself and how to hold my own in this ruthless world of flesh — but mostly I had to teach myself. I slowly learned the art of stage stripping the same way every stripper learns; not by going to gentrified classes in safe environments, but by putting yourself onstage and making a lot of mistakes.
I don’t remember much of my first shows other than that when performing I felt like a metal ball shot out into a pin ball machine onto a stage of blinking lights and tinsel walls. It was dizzying- the strobe, the flashing lights, the adrenalin — the empty rows of seats and three or four little old men sheltering against the August cold.
The hookers were decent enough to stop their trade when I was onstage, hoping that my show would get one of the old fellas horny and he might want a blow job. Jason had pointed out that this was the job of a stripper- to make the audience want sex. It didn’t matter if I didn’t actually supply the sex — supposedly vaginas and female bodies are interchangeable when a man is in the mood..
The old men watched me like they would watch a tennis match — or a game of electronic pong and I rocketed my body from one side of the stage to the other discarding an item of clothing at each end. I looked into their old eyes for some sort of idea as to whether they liked what I was doing, but I may as well have been one of those pens you tip upside down to watch the lady’s knickers disappear.
Being a stripper wasn’t very interesting in many ways, but I loved being onstage. Unlike the party shows, I had a natural aptitude for performing onstage. I wore black fifties corsetry, suspenders, gloves, red lipstick and an Elizabeth Taylor wig. In amongst the brown strippers with UV thongs, my pale skin and dance style set me instantly apart. I decided old school glamour would be my gimmick.
With the shows being between fifteen to twenty minutes long, the first skill I had to learn was when to take things off. If the audience looked bored obviously I had to get naked sooner. If the punters walked out before my show had ended I would get in trouble with Jason. However, if I got it all off too soon, I would become a naked panther pacing in a cage, up and down, back and forth- wanting to get away from being stuck naked in front of a bunch of dormant life-forms.
I soon came to understand that I wasn’t a goddess being worshiped, as I had hoped — or the fantasy goes about strippers — but rather I was a radiator there for human warmth, or in the least a three-dimensional bit of colour and movement.
Jason was the main person to give me ‘constructive criticism.’ At first I would layer my clothing wrong, or do the clasps of my stockings the wrong way, or lose an item to the audience when I wasn’t attentive enough. I wore the wrong shoes and fell over, got zippers stuck in my wig, I got trapped in the tinsel at the back of the stage or slid off the pole mid-spin. Jason would always get mad at this point. He would yell at me afterwards, spit flying all over my face, calling me a dumb fucking dyke.
It’s true you know. I was a fucking dyke. And I did think I was dumb, so I put up with it all. I believed I had it coming, and that I had asked for it. Because that is what I had been told all of my life — that I was a ‘stupid little cunt’ and that bad girls deserve what they get.
One day Jason went too far. He was boasting of his previous exploits and started crapping on about the day he bashed a whore until he thought she was dead. He was a little concerned when she stopped moving so to check she was genuinely dead, he picked her up by the back of her hair to her full height and then dropped her on her face again. When her arms went out to save herself he knew she was faking it and continued with the bashing. He laughed for a bit in his desensitized way, and then noticed how quiet I was… he stopped.
My jaw had dropped open… I had the sweats… I felt ill- that prickly feeling you get when adrenalin is screaming at you through your cells. He saw my horror written all over my face. He knew he’d said too much. He knew I was freaking out.
The most awful thing was, I knew who he had bashed. I had heard Chastity talking in the dressing room about a stripper — aptly named Martini because her breasts were shaped like two tiny martini glasses. She had been trying to take Jason to court for bashing her and described that very scene. Then Martini had suddenly disappeared. There were whispers and lowered eyes whenever her name came up. I knew something bad had happened to her.
I could feel his eyes, like crabs eyes on stalks, moving over me. I hoped I was not visibly trembling. I started my escape plan check again — I was stuck behind the bar, there was one entrance and he was standing in it. I considered jumping over the bar but again the only way out of the club was through a narrow corridor and he would cut me off. I could run upstairs but the way was barred by a metal door, and I wasn’t entirely sure it was open. I had no way out but past him. So I laughed, “dumb junkie.”
Awkward scary silence.
He laughed “Yeah it was fucking funny — stupid junkie. I love bashing junkies…” With his merriment restored he went on to complete the sickening story.
When I finally had a break for lunch I ran out on the street frightened, gasping for oxygen — as if I hadn’t breathed in an hour. I saw a cop and wondered if I could ask for help. But the cops were all on Jason’s payroll and couldn’t be trusted. So I walked past him trying to look normal. Do I just run… run, run, run and keep running until he find me and I end up like Martini?
I kept walking until I got to the end of the street near the fountain and started to pass The Kings Cross Bikers.
One of them whistled at me, “Hey hot stuff, want a ride?”
I looked at him. He was a crusty looking fucker. He was older with dreadlocks and a long graying beard.
He looked at me — and understood what he saw. His mood changed.
“It’s alright. I won’t hurt you.”
I shifted — trusting no-one.
“My name is Animal. We’re the Kings Cross Bikers. Are you alright?”
I said yes because I didn’t know what else to say, but I was shaking, so I guess he knew the truth. I was obviously a stripper as my spangles under my silk kimono gave me away- we never dressed to go out into the street. This street was our turf.
“Where are you working? I haven’t seen you before.”
I introduced myself and said I was working at Stripperama – for Jason.
Animal nodded. He knew what that meant.
“Is he giving you a hard time?”
I didn’t answer — which was all the answer Animal needed.
“Don’t worry. You go back to work. We’ll take care of him for you. We look after everyone on this street.”
Sometimes just the slightest act of kindness can get you through. Sometimes someone just seeing you is enough. Animal and I became and remained good friends for many years. At Christmas he would dress as Santa and line Darlinghurst Road with toys for all of the street kids and children of the strippers and sex workers. He was there many times, in many times of need. Animal was a great human being and that afternoon was the first of many times I would be thankful to The Kings Cross Bikers.
That afternoon, for no reason that Jason immediately understood, the Kings Cross Bikers backed their bikes to the entrance, their exhaust pipes pointing through the doorway of Stripperama and, in revving their engines, they smoked every single person out of the club. Everyone except Jason, and me, whom he kept pinned behind the bar.
Strangely Jason didn’t react. He stood and fumed in the hallway, refusing to leave, but there was no explosion of rage, home made weapons or fists flying. He looked shaken and nervous.
Jason never threatened me again. He spoke to me quite differently after that. Jason also stopped talking about his exploits. He talked about other shit instead — life in jail, hating junkies… it didn’t matter by that point. I had learned to just tune out and watch the shitty porn.
Part 3. Sex in white sports socks
Jason loved porn. He was quite the connoisseur and enjoyed having a film student there to talk about the lighting, the sets and the actors. He was very fond of theatrical porn with a through line.
Occasionally he’d branch out and show gay porn. Once I swear I heard a chicken squawking as I was getting ready backstage. He knew the punters all had different tastes, and tried to cater for them all. This also reflected in the variety of women on the screen. Big, small, tall, thin, dark, pale, round and slight. I realized that contrary to what I had been raised believing, men’s tastes in women varied. Some loved a large lady, some liked them petite, some had a penchant for Asians, some like Nordic blondes.
I also marveled at the range of pussy. Some were hamburger buns; some were more like steak sandwiches. They mostly had hair — some with big purple lips, some with tiny little clits… they all looked normal to me but in those times pussy was just pussy. It wasn’t like your cunt had to look like a Fantin-Latour rosebud- all vagina was good vagina.
I learned a lot from watching Jason’s porn- mostly, I learned how much I disliked porn. But I formed a few favourites:
The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio — it’s not his Nose that Grows.
At Jason’s insistence I sat through an amount of watching Ron Jeremy sucking his own cock whilst sporting naught but a pair white sports socks, but I drew the line at ‘Alice in Anal land’ and went back to doing the crosswords. It all became pretty passé.
So these were my Sundays. Porn, strip, porn, strip, porn, strip, porn occasionally interrupted by listening to Jason talk shit about sex… it was only a few degrees of difference from Sundays at church, sin, church, sin, church, sin broken by listening to the reverend talk shit about god.
Finally, the day came! I’d bought my ticket to Japan, I had my two-year visa in my new passport and had saved $10,000 cash in my shoebox. Soon none of this was going to matter. Soon I was going to be free of this shit hole and the shit head I worked for.
It was 6 am, we’d finished our night of party shows and Jason was closing the club. Making sure there were other people around I sucked up all of my courage and told hime I was leaving. I expected Jason to fly into one of his rages and got ready to be spat all over as he yelled at me. But he didn’t. His eyes hit the floor. He was sad I was going.
In a surprising gesture of warmth, he shook my hand and wished me well. He thanked me for working for him and offered me a job if I should ever return. I said thank you and that I would do that.
Inside I told myself I would NEVER work for him again and I was so thankful to be leaving his grasp. I was amazed at just how easily he let me go after all of his threats as to what he would do if I ever did leave. Life is an interesting thing though — even though I swore to never associate with him again I found it helps to have monster in your back pocket. Jason was to be a part of my story for years to come.
That week I left my studies, intending to never return to that airless aviary, but deferred to make my Dad happy. Stripping was the only thing I had going for me, so I invested all of my energy in that. I did my first ever glamour shoot styling my look on old school strippers I must have seen photos of at some point in my youth. I decided this would be my look and point of difference and had grown my Mohawk out to a a Marilyn styled bob. I turned up with my corset, a set of feather fans and a couple of wigs- and an acid hang over. Here are the results… I was all set and was so happy that morning to be heading home for the last time.
My plane flew out in five hours. All I had to do was get back to my apartment and collect my duffel bag, my new feather fans sticking out the top. I would change into my immaculate, vintage, blue velvet suit and go through the city to say goodbye to my dad. I would board the plane for Japan and leave this dreadful existence behind me. I was finally going to be free and fly away from all of my pain into a bright future that awaited me.
“Goodbye Stripperama,” I thought as I walked out the door — a spring in my step. “Goodbye Kings Cross Bikers,” I thought as I waved to Animal and the Kings Cross Bikers. “Goodbye sleeping prostitutes,” I thought as I walked past another woman dozing on the KFC window ledge.
I turned down the meandering back lanes, behind the grand terraces of Victoria Street, the dawn sun splitting the sky behind me, and the birds all stirring at the joy of a new day. It was a beautiful morning and so early that the streets were empty of human life.
I was nearly home when I noticed two policemen walking up the opposite side of the street ahead of me. I froze — wary of them. I hid. I did not need a run in with the Kings Cross Police on this of all days. I crouched behind the trunk of a large maple tree and waited for them to walk past.
They walked up to a young woman who was sleeping crumpled up on the top step of the McElhone Stairs — some 113 sandstone stairs built to connect the lower slums of Wolloomoolloo with the well to do of Victoria Street. I recognized her blonde hair. It was Simone — a young stripper who worked at the Pink Pussy Cat down the road. I barely breathed, scared the police would see me but bearing witness just in case. We all watched after each other- we all bore witness in those days… we were all we had to protect each other. I watched as they tried to rouse her.
Unable to stir her with their voices or by shaking her shoulder they decided to check if she was alive — by kicking her down the stairs. She fell down the stairs like a rag doll. It was obvious Simone was either dead or dying but they kept kicking anyway. They kicked her all the way down the stairs. There was no banter. No noise. Perhaps the worst thing about it was how silent it all was, just two men in uniform kicking an overdosed girl down those worn stone steps as the bird’s dawn cacophony reached it’s heights. I remember wondering if the birds were singing or screaming.
It’s hard to be nothing, and to know that your friends – even in death — are also nothing. I slunk past, sticking to the opposite side of the street – so sacred they would see me and know I had seen what they did. But they were too consumed by their sport. Goodbye bad policemen.
I finally reached my house, sickened. I went upstairs and did a last clean up throwing my failed essays in the bin. Goodbye shitty feminist assholes I thought. I’m going to fly through that fucking cage door and I’m going to soar now.
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Additional editing by Alyssa Kitt. Photograph courtesy of the author, used here with express permission for Burlesque Beat. This piece may not be republished in part or in whole without obtaining explicit permission from both the author and Burlesque Beat. To acquire permission please contact us. If quoting this piece, please include author and publication credit and a link to this original piece.
By Maya Angelou
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? Copyright © 1983 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)
After including Maya Angelou’s poem and completing this chapter on the day after Trump’s win — on the 10th Nov, 2016, my bird flew away. I had found her abused and abandoned in a park and had spent months nursing her to health. She had never been out of a cage and didn’t have any desire to fly. So I never locked her in one.
On that morning I came outside to see her sitting on the gutter, crest up, proud of her brazened fore into the outside world. I tried to get her down, but she zephyred off and lit on the roof apposite and chirped at me- showing off. That is when a group of minor birds swooped on her — pecking her fiercely en mass.
She screamed in fury, as Australian birds do, stretched her newly healed wings and flew — and she just kept flying.
It broke my heart to watch her go, but if all she ever wondered all of her life, was what it would be like to be a free, wild bird, she now knows. Fly little Millicent, Fly. There will be cats and storms and many silly little birds that will get in your face — just keep flying.