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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.

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

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

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

Shane McCrae

Shane McCrae

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

by this poet

poem

The shadow I had carried lightly has

Been forced upon me now and heavy since

Bulky since     now and since unwieldy as

A corpse the shadow I     was born from in

 

And to I     should have known I couldn’t being

As how it wasn’t me who lifted it

Not     all the way     from

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poem

America I was I think I was

Seven I think or anyway I prob-

ably was    nine    I anyway was nine

 

And riding in the back    seat of our tan

Datsun 210    which by the way Amer-

ica I can’t believe    Datsun is just

 

Gone    anyway   America I was

Riding in

poem

The man said I could see them if I wanted

He said     America would never be

A place where we could     live together not at

Least in my lifetime     but the damned don’t see

No     important differences     between the Ne-

gro and the White the damned     don’t see no bad

In

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