For whom does the caged bird sing?

A poem by Magdalee Brunache


If you can be the type that they can accept

You can let them praise you

Knowing that their praises come from surprise

Surprise at your decency

Shock at how well you can pass for one of them

Let them clap

Welcome the awards

Let them raise you to the skies

But be aware that the second you falter

They’ll be happier to let you fall

Avenged, they will strip you of your glory

Look into your past for signs that you were always less

They will shred the blanket you made

Of the soothing words that they drowned you in

The words that kept you warm at night

Let you believe that you had “made it”

That it was never about your color

That there was never any barrier

That the fight was over


If you master the language of the master

You will be deemed “educated”

You’ll get the applauses and the grants

And the parades

They’ll hold events so that they can display you

This marvelous thing for others to see

How unexpected they will say

How rare to find such brilliance in your kind

They will think


For you, the doors will be open

Not eligible is not a word that will be thrown at you

You’ll get the residence and the prize

You’ll get to go onstage and say

How immensely grateful you are

To the youngsters

Who look up to you

You’ll tell that

They too can “make it”

They can get a sit at the table

A place among the stars

You will not talk about the past

‘Cause why would you

It’s water under the bridge

Relic for history books

The future is yours if you can forgive

Who cares that no one ever asked you for forgiveness


You’ll walk the tight rope

In the luxurious circus they built for you

You’ll mind your actions

And you’re words

To be human, you’ll have to be more

Stay in the line!

Is the silent command that they will shout at you

Without ever having to say it

‘Cause you’ll forget that you’re caged

In your beautiful cage

It is for them you’ll sing


But when you fall, you’ll see

You’ll hear them saying

How you’ve set the fight back for your entire race

How you’ve spit oh so carelessly

On the chances given to you

How you’ve closed the doors behind you

For others like you


You’ll realize then



The truth that you knew all along

You are not a person

You are a type

You are a trope

The proper type

The type that they can pretend to accept

A model for your kind


You are not human

To them, you are a symbol

A poster telling the world that

They never hated us

They only hated the savagery within us

The violence that even under the proper clothes

We’re still unable to contain

The violence that is foreign to them

Because when they lash out

It’s not of poor taste

It is a breakdown

They reassert their humanity by failing

But not us

Though how could we lose

What they never believed we had


Inspired by Sarah Kay, “The Type”