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Jim Ferris



Let me be a poet of cripples,

of hollow men and boys groping

to be whole, of girls limping toward

womanhood and women reaching back,

all slipping and falling toward the cavern

we carry within, our hidden void,

a place for each to become full, whole,

room of our own, space to grow in ways

unimaginable to the straight

and the narrow, the small and similar,

the poor, normal ones who do not know

their poverty.  Look with care, look deep.

Know that you are a cripple too.

I sing for cripples; I sing for you.



6-10-60. History. This child is the second of three

children—the other two are perfectly normal. He was the product

of a normal pregnancy and delivery. At birth it was noted

that the left lower extremity was shorter than the right. The child

had a fragmentation and rodding of the left femur

for stimulation of bone growth. Prior to that procedure a 2” discrepancy

existed. This procedure was repeated in 1957 and again in 1958. Prior

to the procedure in 1958 a 2” discrepancy was again noted. The child’s

early development was normal. He has, of course, been periodically set back

in his physical progress because of the surgical procedures.


6-10-60. Physical Examination. Head: There is nothing

abnormal about the head. Left lower extremity: There appears

to be only a very moderate degree of atrophy in the left thigh, but

this is explainable on the basis of his surgical procedures.

Gait is moderately abnormal but caused only

by the leg length discrepancy.


7-28-61. History. He began sitting at six months of age, walked

at one year, and began talking at about one year of age. There have been

some periods of regression following the early surgical procedures. The boy

is attending school and is apparently well adjusted.


7-28-61. Physical Examination. Examination reveals a slight

compensatory scoliosis. This is corrected by equalization of leg lengths.

This boy walks with a left short leg limp. He is able to run without difficulty,

and can hop on his right foot, but he is unable to hop on his left foot.

When performing the duck waddle his left leg leads the right.


12-7-62. Neurological Examination. Deep tendon reflexes

are physiological. There is a slight diminution of the left knee jerk

as contrasted with that on the right. No sensory loss nor pathologic reflexes.


8-28-63. Progress Notes. The mother relates that the boy has been

stumbling more and more in recent weeks. His quadriceps are

quite weak, probably from the multiple surgical procedures

done on this thigh. Quadriceps are rather bound down at the knee.

The leg length discrepancy is 3” and it is very difficult

to have a satisfactory shoe lift on this dimension. A long leg brace

was ordered with knee locks and with a 2” pylon extension.


11-8-63. Progress Notes. This boy has received his long leg brace

with the caliper extension today. The brace is satisfactory,

except for the fact that the ankle joint is rigid and

he has a great deal of difficulty getting his trousers on and off

and needs to split the seams.


8-14-64. Progress Notes. This child who is almost 10 years of age

is wearing a long leg brace with a stilt on it, but the mother says

that he objects to this and apparently is undergoing considerable

emotional disturbance. The mother has noticed this since his return

from the hospital at which time he had a repeat fragmentation and rodding.


4-7-67. Physical Examination. Lower extremities: Circumference:

There is obvious atrophy of the left thigh: This cannot

be accurately compared with the right because of the shortness

of the extremity and the dislocation of the patella.


6-6-69. History. The child is in the ninth grade and does fair

and goes to a regular school.


10-30-70. Progress Notes. Final Discharge. The patient is essentially

unchanged since last visit. His leg lengths measured to the heel

on the right measures 101 and 86 on the left from the anterior superior

iliac spine. He has occasional episodes of pain. He is still

wearing the long leg brace with the high lift below

and there was no indication on the mother’s part that she plans

on having anything done in the near future.



Evenings when the Boy Scouts come we tie knots.

Bowline. Half hitch. Two half hitches. Clove hitch.

Running knot, rolling hitch, overhand, square.

Slip knot, sheepshank, sheet bend. The granny knot

is a screwed-up square knot. The scoutmasters

all look alike in their bile-green shirts

as they minister to our need for knots.

We are their good deed for the day. I am

back in Shriners so many times I earn

three Tenderfoot pins but quickly I

forget most of the knots. When I look up

knot in the dictionary I find

a surgeon’s knot. We never learned that.

Mostly I remember the square knot,

the slip knot—holding back, and slipping free.

-from The Hospital Poems, Main Street Rag Press, 2004, selected by Spring 2024 Guest Editor, Sheila Black

Poet, performance artist, and disability studies scholar, Jim Ferris is the author of Slouching Towards Guantanamo (Main Street Rag, 2011). A long-time professor of disability studies, Ferris has served as president of the Society for Disability Studies and the Disabled & D/deaf Writers Caucus. He has received numerous awards for performance and mathematics as well as for poetry and creative nonfiction.

Ferris was born in Illinois. During childhood, he was in and out of hospitals as doctors attempted to remedy a condition in which one leg grew faster than the other. His experiences with the medical establishment and its culture became important to his work as a poet and a scholar. His groundbreaking essay “The Enjambed Body: A Step Toward a Crippled Poetics” appeared in the Georgia Review.

Ferris’s first book of poems, The Hospital Poems (2004), won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Ferris’s other books include the chapbook Facts of Life (2005). He holds a doctorate in performance studies and has performed his own work widely.

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