#SummerReads 2015 #2: “The Hospital Poems” by Jim Ferris

This summer, my goal is to read ten poetry collections. Click on the summerreading2015 tag to chart my progress.

hospitalpoemsI am particularly interested in poetry about disability and chronic illness—not surprising, since I suffer daily from a chronic illness and both my in-laws are disabled.

Jim Ferris’s collection is compact but powerful in the way it describes a childhood spent undergoing painful surgeries that left him no better off. Most of the poems, too, are short and full of an energy that hits you in the same way a rubber band that’s been launched across the classroom does: You never want to admit how much it hurts.

Ferris certainly succeeded in getting me to feel at least a ghost of the pain he felt when undergoing multiple surgeries to correct his one leg being longer than the other. He captures moments of both physical and emotional pain in metaphoric glass, freezes them in time so we can walk through the rooms of his experience, study them at length.

My favorite poem from the collection is “Pater Noster:”

I am an orphan. Yes, Jesus loves me,
yes, my parents love me, and I live in the narrow space
between two worlds. I am not their son—
I am the son of Vulcan, the crippled god,
and down in his never-broken bones Jesus knows.
He is so sad, he knows I am lost.
My father makes a brace for me—he is good
with his hands—and I move through this world
like Jesus, reproach and inspiration to all.
For I am sent on high—what do you worship?
Look upon me, then look within and know thy god.

I like that this poem packs so much into only eleven lines. We learn that he feels orphaned by his parents and religion, that he feels hopeless and “other.”

The line “I move through this world / like Jesus, reproach and inspiration to all” suggests that he feels like a sacrifice or a martyr, but also captures a common element of the disabled experience. People look down on him as less than human, but also hold him up as an inspiring example of what even less-than-humans can accomplish—and if the crippled kid can do it, you can do it!

It’s more than him just saying “I am an orphan.” The tone of “yes, Jesus loves me, / yes, my parents love me” suggests an eye roll. Like, if you really loved me would you leave me here and let doctors break my bones over and over?

These are poems that I will return to, to contemplate the lengths we (or our parents) will go for the sake of “fitting in.”



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