The Ballad of Cathay Williams William Cathay

Shane McCrae


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

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.

Poems by This Author

The Best Thing Anyone Ever Said About Paul Celan by Shane McCrae
Today you will the     say the any ever
Whose Story of Us We Is Told Is Us by Shane McCrae
Brother is we is each of us we ghosts

Further Reading

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