To mark Halloween, here’s a poem from Stephen Scott Whitaker about a costume–a costume that is both funny and indicative of how gender affects interactions.
The Success of Captain Whitaker’s Dress
One of the old family stories that gets disrobed
anytime someone brings up the war
is how great uncle Isaac dressed in drag
to fool a dopey Union picket
into giving him/her keys to Grant’s food storage.
And of course he stole everything
and of course the Yanks were fooled.
But the untold story is how Isaac shaved his mustache,
one of those bushy fox tails,
how he emerged from the river beardless,
his naked body bare and pink
from the Bowie blade that softened his features,
appearing, at first, to his men as a boy,
then a girl.
And if the story is fact,
then a corset harnessed him
and a wig, petticoats, powder and silk were his vessel,
and like a saucy Robin Hood
galloped off for the enemy front
in his backyard.
And if the story were fact
consider Vicksburg, the swampy Mississippi,
even in April the lungs sweat to move the obese air.
The only thing more uncomfortable than being a man in the southern heat
is being a woman.
Who coached his voice?
Were Union boys so polite and dumb
to forgive a husky woman,
boxy and lean as a coffin?
Was there a rose in your hair, Isaac?
Did the perfumes rouse your tempers
as you strumped up the country road?
In likelihood he had an accomplice,
his wife, or another’s wife,
Did she offer more, Isaac,
as you slipped inside?
Or did you go alone
your guerrilla nature hammered into a long leg drawl?
What did you find between the folds of your dress?
How close did your lips press to unlock
what your men needed?
Your powder as delicate as a bruise,
your hips swaying like a cheap ballerina
as your men lay swampy ruts by the river,
fattened with fever,
throats tight as your choker.
What did you learn when you were swallowed by the eyes
of a few horny soldiers with rifles, bullets, and knives?
Editor’s Note: Stephen Scott Whitaker has published with us before. Read his “An Old Man in a Blouse, At Market.”
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