"Uncaged" and "You and Die"


His dreams hung thick on each syllable, vowels twisting together to strengthen the cord. Over the course thoughts bloomed, shriveled, resurfaced, and morphed into fantasies rich with tiny pains swelling as they traveled. Images fired: mother; friend; sister; lover; a black cube; a pony; a dog broken in half, connected only by red ropes; the hands of a boy, of a man, his own hands; words on bright white paper, “We are sorry to inform you that...”; a baby beached and wilting under fluorescent shame. Sounds long gone flowered: a woodpecker tapping on the elm; a lover’s sigh; the sharpness of a shovel scrapping dead from pavement; a long, shrill note; the snap of a twisted ulna; the silence that follows concrete opening a skull.

The vowels strengthening the cord.

The constants rapping and wrapping.


The dreams redefining. Desire melting into love. Love a myth, a fantastic devise. Respect a taunt, a lust lurking, spiked. His dreams spoke American: the ideal education, romance, holiday, vehicle, house.

Anybody can  If only they      If only             Anybody                      And if a body can’t.

Shame closing in. He kicks the chair away.

A short drop or regret.

Lights spark. The cat on a shelf across the garage blurs, drops to the concrete, purrs, and rubs against the tip of his toe. It is soft, warm, a tiny comfort. It will not run for help, will not gnaw at the ties, will not speed the suffocation, will not stop the silent, slow film.

They will be sorry, he thinks or hopes.

When they find him, he imagines tears. But he knows better. He knows.

He wonders if the cat is still there singing in the silence.

He is regret, is sorrow, is sorry or not, is hope and relief, is euphoria and pain, is speeding through thick time, is trapped in freedom.



You and Die

You may have thought about it, may have wondered how it would feel, how best to do it, what people would say or think. Or maybe you didn’t care about words and thoughts.


You might have wanted to have the strength to hold the blade to your chest and, without feeling too much pain, slice from throat to pelvic bone and pull out pieces, give a heart to one who refused to go to taco night or to watch reality TV with you or to (really) love you, a liver to one who said your writing was too automatic or lacked verisimilitude or who you could never satisfy, a spleen to a boss who refused to promote you despite your having given (actually given) your all and hours to the company. You wanted to pull the intestines out inch by inch to prove a point, to hurt those who hurt you, to show them how they made you feel. You would hand those long, slippery snakes out inch by inch with your unflared nose pointing directly at each recipient, every face muscle relaxed, no scrunch to your chin, your eyes dry and serious. When the gutting was finished and the pieces gifted, you might have wanted to drop gracefully into a mass of beautiful indifference. You might have wanted to return the hurt you’d been issued, wanted peace or revenge, wanted the type of understanding that could only be felt through terror or empathy or comparison.


You might have wanted to but couldn’t.


You might have known the physical pain would outweigh the inner pain, knew the blade was insufficient, knew you were too weak to perform, too afraid to push the blade through the skin. You might have hated yourself for being a coward. Or maybe you wanted to feel the ache, knew it would make things better, knew the power of one pain to heal another, knew that, if you could follow through, if you could stay conscious long enough to hand out your little gifts, you would feel euphoria or relief or the warmth of a white-sand beach. You might have started with the blade and began to salivate as droplets of blood ran down your body. This might have made you hate yourself a little bit and more.


And more.


Maybe you considered the reality, how the heart was enclosed in a cage to which you had no key, how bends in the river of blood or blinding sorrow or your lack of knowledge of human anatomy would make it difficult to find the gifts you wanted to present. You knew that your studying of organ placement would be lost in a fog once that striking, shiny blade separated your skin into a screaming mouth.


Maybe your pain obscured reason.


Maybe reason obscured your pain.


Maybe you never had such feelings, because such feelings belong to the unstable, to the weak or mentally disturbed, to those who should feel shame, to those who were just imagining things, to the attention seekers, to those who chose not to be

to those who chose not to be

to those who chose to be



Maybe you did not (openly) feel shame. Or you understood shame, attracted it, embodied it, were given little pieces of it every time you called a parent, every time you handed in an assignment, every time you drove your car or rode your bike, every time you went to the doctor or therapist or your beautician or barber, every time you walked into a gym full of perfection, every time you looked into your crooked mirror.


To show such weakness, you might say, is unacceptable, the only benefit being the farce of normality.


Being normal is like


Maybe you have been thinking about it since you’ve been a child. Maybe you held your breath only to find yourself saved by a spiteful gasp. Maybe you found a rope in the garage and snuck it to your room where you trained yourself in the art of the noose crafted from memories of those used in old Westerns for hangings where the bad or black or falsely accused quickly dropped into a pendulum. Maybe you walked the park or woods or your back yard hunting for a high, strong branch over a pleasant place to die. Maybe you had the perfect horse in mind. Of course, you failed to carry out your plan, returned to your work, to your home, to your bedroom where you learned to smile with your face, even when you wanted to

even when you wanted something else


Maybe your childhood pain had you wearing your best outfit on a freshly bathed body before you would stretch out on the kitchen floor to die. You didn’t want to be any trouble. They wouldn’t have to clean you up or carry you down the stairs or decide what to bury you in, you had saved them this work. After all, it was you and your dirty room and your stupid, greedy ways who caused the screaming, the dish throwing, the dog kicking, the divorce, the riffle shots. This, you thought, would reflect your pain, would give you a tiny voice, would allow you to really stop breathing and die. Would make things better for everybody. This was to be your gift. A gift you could not give at the time.


Maybe the only way you could fall asleep at night was to pretend you were dead. Maybe those dreamy moments are what kept you alive. You would straighten your body, rest your thick head deep into the feather pillow that once belonged to your dead grandmother, pillow holding the memories of the only person who ever really loved you, cradling your thoughts, inviting you to return to her arms, giving you a moment of


Giving you a moment of her, her inviting you to her world of fried chicken and lilacs and orange perfume, inviting you to her world of peace and death.


The sleep lasting only minutes before ideas began to boil deep inside, your stomach somersaulting, your insides expanding, the heat causing organs to itch, each vein trying to work its way through your skin, your bones twitching, marrow bubbling, your skin beginning to stretch until you thought it would give way and the whole mess burst onto your ceiling. The sleep lasting only minutes before shame snuck into your budding dream forcing it to nightmare. The sleep lasting only minutes before your realized that you might have forgot to turn off the coffee pot or curling iron or that you left the toaster plugged in and, like your father warned, would catch your kitchen on fire and kill everyone in your building including the old woman who reminded you of spring and the little boy downstairs who smelled like cotton candy. The sleep lasting only minutes before your need to run the sweeper or read that book you bought three years ago or polish the leaves of your house plants. Thoughts breaking apart the happy scene unraveling in your dream world.


Understanding how it felt to feel broken, without knowing what you were doing, because you never really knew what you were doing, because your insufficiency was yours, because you felt comfort in the pleasure of others, you began think of ways to make others happy even at, especially at, your own expense. Maybe you gave of yourself as a study partner or editor or child laborer or young lover in order to make others smile. Maybe you gave your happiness. Maybe you told jokes about your deepest insecurities (your smile, your height, your lack of intellect, your uneven gait, your pocked face, your inability to keep up at work, you failure to have scrubbed your floors this week or year, your failure to finish school or your book or doing your dishes, your unwillingness to meet new people, your stuttering, your mental stuttering, you incapacity to think on the spot or to just think, your lack of wit, your use of bad similes). Maybe you could never grow a tomato plant or baby in the way you could grow shame. Maybe you gave                                                                          

                       and gave                                                                         .


You gave


Nobody thanked you. They began to expect


Nobody thanked you. They began to expect things. And more things.


And other things like

Your insides turned like

You were as sad as

Your mind was as busy as

Your soul as empty as

Your eyes dark as

Not your eyes but your

Your sleep as fleeting as

All of this adds up to


You were never good at math, at words, at speaking, at school, at work, at words, at


You never had the guts to metaphor when you failed at making simile.


You did one brilliant thing. You wrote this amazing line or made the perfect baby or drove for twenty years without getting a ticket. You could paint a wall like a blue-collar Picasso or wait on others like a movie-star butler or saved the life of a cat or fly or dog. You told one good joke, had one nice comeback. You were a smartass

or a dumbass.

An ass. You were an ass.


You did one brilliant thing that wasn’t so brilliant. You did one marginally brilliant thing that grew expectations. You did one marginally brilliant thing that grew expectations you could not live up to. You did one thing

                       There were expectations                                             you could




Maybe you practiced jokes in front of the mirror. You never cracked but imagined others laughing loud and hard, imagined what it might feel like to laugh with them, how a single moment could temper a hundred others. Maybe you imagined conversations, practiced clever comebacks, practiced timing and speed. You watched Carson and tried to outmaneuver McMahon, tried to predict or improve Johnny’s lines.


You were a mass of rehearsed SNL sketches waiting for

You were waiting

You were like

You are as


Things you waited for never came.

Things you were you never really were.

You were that which you hated most.

You were a

You were a cliché, a failed metaphor.


You were no Eddie Murphy, were no Gilda Radner, no Steve Martin.


You could not satisfy.

                       Not yourself.



You gave and wanted to give. The gift of those slippery, red gifts.

                                                The biggest gift of all, you thought


You wanted to give the gift of not being but you didn’t. You couldn’t.

Not at that particular moment.



Jane L. Carman

Jane L. Carman is the founder of Lit Fest Press, Festival Writer, and the reading series Festival of Language and a reading eXperiment. She holds a PhD from Illinois State University where she is a former Codirector of the Publications Unit and a Sutherland Fellow. Her book, Tangled in Motion, was published by Journal of Experimental Fiction Books in 2015 and is in the second edition. Her critical and creative work can be found in Devil’s Lake, Santa Clara Review, American Book Review, elimae, Palooka, Dirty : Dirty (Jaded Ibis Productions), 580-SplitJAC, and many others. She is currently coauthoring a book a suicide stories with Amy L. Eggert.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - 22:51