Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


The Ballad of Cathay Williams William Cathay

A white man wouldn't less

He stripped me naked was

Whipping me know

I was a woman     got

A name just turn

It inside out

And I'm a man

How else I'm gonna know myself

When I am called


A white man wouldn't twice I had

Smallpox twice after     I enlisted

twice and had / To be

hospitalized both times

Ain't never once

no doctor nor no nurse

Discovered me

No for no white woman

I wouldn't have

nothing for her to see

She would want me to know she seen

And I was watching close

How else I'm gone to know myself

When I am called


And what she see is anyway

how is she gonna know for sure

Black man ain't got

a hole down there

How is she know he ain't

A white man born wrong inside out

and twice as big and mean

And got a hole go twice as deep to hell

How is that woman sure

of anything at all

How else I'm etc

Credit


Copyright © 2012 by Shane McCrae. Used with permission of the author.

About this Poem


Cathay Williams was the first African-American woman to enlist as a soldier in the United States Army. She did so in 1866, disguised as a man, and served for almost two years.

Author


Shane McCrae

Shane McCrae is the author of six poetry collections, including The Gilded Auction Block (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Date Published: 2012-11-27

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/ballad-cathay-williams-william-cathay