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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 five books of poetry: In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), The Animal Too Big to Kill (Persea Books, 2015), winner of the 2014 Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor’s Choice Award; Forgiveness Forgiveness (Factory Hollow Press, 2014); Blood (Noemi Press, 2013); and Mule (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011).

by this poet

poem
Brother is we is each of us we ghosts

Brother of white folks we

don't never known us brother we

Because we never doesn't fits

Nowhere we brother

doesn't fits in bodies



Our bodies we is always walking leaking

like a ghost can't be a body in one place

But every eyes     / Catches and pulls at it

Like
poem

Nicholas turned     eleven two

Months he ago a he ago

I after him a-running still

But quietly and far away


For the first time turned     far away

Without me or     without that day

Me seeing him on all the bright-

ness gone     the day     the snow had gone

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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