Jim Ferris

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The Hospital Poems

Ferris, Jim

Last Updated: Oct-15-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)


The first poem begins: "Let me be a poet of cripples, / of hollow men and boys groping / to be whole, of girls limping toward / womanhood. . . " This Whitmanesque introduction bespeaks two sides of Jim Ferris’s poetry. First, this is poetry of celebration: "I sing for cripples, I sing for you." But at the same time, the poems look unflinchingly at the failures, phoniness, and self-righteousness of the "fix it" establishment. They also portray (and celebrate) the community of suffering among the inmates destined to be "fixed."

In "Meat" (5) Ferris lays it on the line," Between four and five they bring down the meat / from recovery--those poor dopes have been simmering / up there for hours, bubbling up to the surface. . . " But even the children who have become "meat" have feelings. For example, the narrator of "Mercy" (18) expresses horror when two healthy classmates from the 8th grade manipulate the hospital rules in order to bring him a Get Well greeting. "How did these aliens get in?" he asks. "Leave now, trespassers, you who seek to gaze / on my humiliation." Perhaps the merciful will obtain mercy from God, he comments, "but not from me." In "Miss Karen" (25) the narrator sustains himself with erotic fantasies about his nurse and discovers to his mortification that he babbled these thoughts to his mother during recovery from anesthesia.

The culture of medicine looks cruel--or at least uncaring--though this crippled narrator’s eyes. "The Coliseum" (42) gives a telling description of the patient’s appearance at Grand Rounds: "You are a specimen / for study, a toy, a puzzle--they speak to each other / as if you were unconscious. . . " "Standard Operating Procedure" (44) reads like an ironic crib-sheet for orthopedic surgery: "Bust a chuck / of bone the rest of the way out; chisel it if you have to. . . He won’t remember much; kids are like animals / that way."

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