I Was Baptized Josephine

I was baptized Josephine, but I call myself Joe now:
I never felt comfortable in a woman’s clothes,
I was as good at threshing the corn as any man,
And those tales of Amazonian woman-pirates,
And the construction of the Sapperton tunnel,
Made me think of how I might escape this prison
Of womanhood, and so become a man;
So I walked out from my Cotswold hamlet,
Shopped for clothes in Stroud,
Talked myself into a trial run at the Bricklayer’s Arms,
Took a boat through in near record time,
And was signed on as a professional legger,
An inland navigator of sorts, a sort of hybrid,
My sex hidden by fustian, and the subterranean
Depths, down there where the fossils remind us
Of Noah, the ark, the deluge, and the dove of peace.

I quite like that troglodyte world down there,
Your senses are all a-watch:
The dripping of the waters,
The oozings and the tricklings,
The clack of your boots on the brick walls,
The strange sweet smell of our River Styx,
The chorus of a shanty,
The effulgence of the lantern,
The distant pinprick of light,
The chafing of the boards on your hands,
The relish of a tankard and bread and cheese
When you moor up at the Tunnel House,
The joy of seeing your horse again;

It’s not an old man’s, or old woman’s, job:
Your legs, hips, feet, hands and arms
Are full sore after a length of the tunnel,
You only have to look at the grooves that a horse’s rope
Leave in the brick of a canal,
To know that those grooves are being etched
On your bones;
But down there,
In the deep, dark depths,
Of what some might see as a prison,
Is where,
I am free.