Battery Cage 2

The Battery Cage

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Image credits to A. Mazurkevich / Shutterstock








My name is Loretta. I belong to the Onion Head. I call him the Onion Head because his appearance is that of a fresh picked onion hanging upside down – his round yellow head, the bulbous onion and its hollow green stem, his wrinkled coveralls. His pant legs chafe and swish as he robotically makes his rounds at the same monotonous pace with his hands in his pockets – no doubt fingering coins. When he arrives at camp, we skitter and cackle. It’s the only light we’ll see all day.

By we, I mean my sisters, and by camp, I mean our windowless prison that runs by remote control. We share a room. Or rather, a cell – eleven of us, counting me. We’re allotted space that’s standing room only, about the size of the Onion Head’s shoe. My sisters are Lulu, Lynnette, Lori, Leola, Lizzie, Lacy, Laura, Lenore, Louise and Louisa (twins), but to the Onion Head, we’re collectively cell seventeen. Our names begin with the same letter, so that we have a sense of who lives where. The M’s, Mary and Missy, live in the cells to our right, and the K’s, Kelly and Kendra, to our left. Our methods of communication are quite complex. When one of us cries out, Vicky for instance, we know that she’s ten cells down. Since we can’t see her, it provides us with a sense of space, a sense of peace. Ten houses down, so to speak.

Yesterday, the twins Louise and Louisa, had a terrible spat over nothing. They brought no harm to each other, thank God, since the Onion Head surgically removes a good portion of our mouths. We’re not fighters by nature, but anxiety screams for release when emotions are this pent up. Lock yourself in a bathroom with thirty-two Onion Heads elbow to elbow, and you’ll see what I mean. After months and years, you pray for a spot on the floor.

At night, we pass stories from cell to cell, fantasizing, as if someday we might escape. Prisoners running through waves of grass – we raise families, splash in puddles, and blink in the sun. The intellectuals among us scoff, saying such dreams are pointless, chalking the nonsense up to instinct. Especially old Sage, seven cells down.

I stay up most of the night talking to Sage when I feel sad.

“Someday, the Onion Heads will see,” she said.

“Before I’m old?” I asked.

“No. Each layer of the onion represents a phase of enlightenment. Each time they peel a layer they discover a deeper truth.”

“How long?” I asked. “Before they see what they’ve done?”

“That’s an age-old question. They’re only on the second or third layer. There’s a long way to go, I’m afraid.”

“In our lifetime?”

“It’s not our life to live. You should know that by now.”

“It’s so unfair.”

“Don’t complain,” said Sage. “After all, you’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Born male, you would’ve been thrown in the blender and ground alive.”



John Grabski is a runner, writer and poet that lives on a farm in New York. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at The Unbroken Journal, The Harpoon Review, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Eclectica Magazine and Cyclamens and Swords. You can read excerpts of his published work at or find him on Twitter at @GrabskiJohn.

**Single Chicken image credits to Curioso / Shutterstock.

Speak My Name


A worm piercing through wet earth crawls toward the shadow of a no name dog chained to a tree, pawing at the silence of worm holes.

The sparrow is the only one who knows, leaps to the sound of a distant horn honking, circles, hovers over a farmer dressed for Sunday mass. She steals hay, swoops down to clasp her beak on the slow, wriggling creature. Baby birds chirp tight tones, restless in their nest.

The sparrow knows how to make the best of worm holes.

The worm hole vacant, the dog’s ear close, listening for echoes down through layers of well-traveled places he never goes. He paws at holes.

No name is used to hearing what he cannot see, always imagining what the sparrow is free to be. He stares at a stone at the center of night, the same moon, every night, and the sparrow sleeping.

He hears the sound of pigs squealing, baseball bats thumping on bare backs as they run from the slaughter room floor. They huff air like milk, as if silence will nourish them, like the worm in a baby bird’s mouth. They look for a worm hole, too. A well-traveled tunnel to places they will never know, imagine it will take them to the sound of their babies burrowing beside them, pawing at holes.

They chew each other’s flesh, like fresh tomatoes, out of boredom, frustration, for the sensation of being alive while locked inside gestation crates until pushed down a compactor shoot. Their screams echo off no name’s stone, night after night. He chews his toes. He watches. He listens.

He wonders what the sparrow knows. Always, he paws holes.

No name dog chews until morning light, when the farmer’s son sprays water into his rusty pail. The boy glances at the gnawed knob of the dog’s foot, beats him with a hammer for all the dog doesn’t know, can’t see, isn’t free to be.

He wipes his bloody hands on his pant leg, turns away from the panic.

In the silence of no name dog’s screaming, the sparrow focuses on the worm hole, waits for the beating to end, leaps down before the vultures descend, or the wolves begin chewing on his bones.

The dog licks his wounds. He concentrates on breath, slow and funneled through the silence that he knows. He paws at holes.

A cow bellows. Her baby, still slick in afterbirth, strangled by a lasso, desperately seeking her mother, who is chained to the back of a bulldozer, dragged over the soil of worm holes.

No name dog watches through his swollen eye, red on the white of a lamb in the field. Her baby nestled close by, painted in splashes of her mother’s red. The baby, breathless, screams from the inside, watches her mother’s skin ripping while still alive. The boy’s shadow plumbs holes.

A goat screams from the bottom of an abandoned well. No name dog hears. The sparrow knows.

He was raking worm holes.

The sparrow swoops down to inspect, clutches a worm in her claw, returns to the nest against the wave in the wind the gunshot made.

The boy returns with gasoline and a cigarette. Rubbing his right ear in fresh earth of worm holes, no name dog in flames, his swollen eye sees the sparrow whistling lamentably an animal farm incantation:

May your ash swiftly settle in the voice of burn.
Be certain. Tall. Rise up in flame.
I am the least of all, but you were still less,
no name at all.

Clear to him, no name in flames, what the sparrow is free to see and be.

He stands on his three legs and his missing paw.

The ghosts of the animal farm swell up through worm holes, disembodied voices chanting:

I live in the strained strands of your ocular muscle.

See me.

I live in the creamy cerumen of your ear canal.

Hear me.

I live in the pores of your nostril.

Smell me.

I am more than a bloody stain.

Touch me.

I live in the fragile film of your oral mucosa.

Speak my name.


Andrea Collins, “Tough Girl”

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