Karen Connelly (2008) The Lizard Cage

lizard cage.jpg


‘Dear Brother, here where the doors are closed

I have learned to walk through brick walls

A copper-pot spider was my good friend

and many lizards fed my heart

Now every dream I see assumes

the shape of a skeleton key.


Once I heard Grandfather’s voice

calling me back through the trees

but I can’t go home that way

I will remain by an older path

over the plains on the river

My offerings as I travel

through the city of temples

will be bones and tears.


Burma, the generals say Myanmar

to make us forget our country and

their crimes but we will not forget

they build a cage around our lives

Only the ants know the strength

the weaknesses of its walls

and perhaps the child knows

who knows too much        the white ghosts

of maggots on the edge of my pail

the dark ghosts of men who haunt him

He knows the living tree of language

but cannot climb it yet

my broken face he knows

he knows my hunger feeds him

as yours feeds the men on the border

as May May becomes a vegetarian

when Hpay Hpay died so her sons

might devour the meat in every dish


Everything sharpened is sharp

and often shines

A sliver of glass in the hand

can make the history

that alters history

here in the cage and there

in your cramped room in that house

without nation the new country

is not distance at all.


Sometimes I almost see it

growing like a web

now invisible now

suddenly shining.


Nyi Lay, here where the flesh

becomes spirit

the border dissolves

with the flayed skin

Here there is no separation


Brother sometimes I fear for you

Will you enter a new era

only to make up another word

for murder?

I cannot see the weapons you carry

only that warped guitar


As for me I have forsaken

every weapon but the voice

singing its last song

And the hand Dear Brother

my own hand

writing it down


with metta



‘The torturer cannot allow himself to care about the person he hurts: his job is to destroy the body and its spirit.

‘In the cage it doesn’t matter whether you’re innocent or guilty

‘In the cage the only weapon I have is my own life

‘There are words in every language for GRIEF, FEAR, TERROR, BROKEN but none so eloquent, so precise as this, the sound of a child who cannot breathe for weeping. And there is no cowardice so profound as the adults who cannot bear to hear it.

‘That’s how it is with big people. They can be whatever they want.

‘The fourth of the Four Divine Abidings. Equanimity. To let be what one must be.

‘The boy gives the jailer a grin like a spark of fire and glances at the road.


‘What will I do with the book?’

‘You will read it.’


‘Learning his lessons makes the boy shine. There hadn’t been a child like that for over a decade.’

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