Slouching Toward Guantanamo


poems by

Jim Ferris

Poetry book, 88 pages, cover price $14

($12 if ordered from the MSR Online Bookstore)

ISBN: 978-1-59948-300-9

Release date: 2011


JFerris_Px2Jim Ferris: bats right, throws right, votes left. He is author of Facts of Life and The Hospital Poems, which Edward Hirsch selected as winner of the Main Street Rag Book Award in 2004. Ferris, who holds a doctorate in performance studies, has performed at the Kennedy Center and across the United States, Canada and Great Britain; recent performance work includes the solo performance piece “Scars: A Love Story.” Past president of the Society for Disability Studies, he has received fellowship awards in poetry as well as creative nonfiction. His writing has appeared in publications, ranging from the Georgia Review to Text & Performance Quarterly, from the Michigan Quarterly Review to Disability Studies Quarterly to weekly newspapers. Ferris holds the Ability Center Endowed Chair in Disability Studies at the University of Toledo.

In Slouching Towards Guantanamo, Jim Ferris continues to challenge the way we have all learned to think about disability and people with disabilities. These splendid poems navigate between the light touch of tender irony and the arresting perspective disabled bodies can offer our common understandings.

–Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Staring: How We Look

“Poems with Disabilities,” the opening poem of Jim Ferris’ Slouching Towards Guantanamo is a funny, sly, quietly mocking, often touching take on the disability theme that saturates this collection. This poem, like so many others in this heartfelt and expressive compilation, exhorts us, beguiles us, charms us; and suddenly, as we’re reading along–just as he promises– our “angle of vision jumps” and our “entrails aren’t where we left them.” A precise and eloquent unraveling of life’s knottier complexities.

–Terry Galloway, Mean Little deaf Queer

Slouching Towards Guantanamo is kind of holy, more than a little Whitmanesque when Jim Ferris writes, “This is my body. Look if you like.” And so we do in these funny, lacerating poems, veering from pain to pain. They sing the body derelict, the body “merely” different. Intensely physical, surprisingly musical, capacious and elegiac at once, Slouching Towards Guantanamo is thrilling work, though things fall apart, as do we all.

–Paul Guest, My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge

Poems with Disabilities

I’m sorry — this space is reserved
for poems with disabilities. I know
it’s one of the best spaces in the book,
but the Poems with Disabilities Act
requires us to make all reasonable
accommodations for poems that aren’t
normal. There is a nice space just
a few pages over — in fact (don’t
tell anyone) I think it’s better
than this one, I myself prefer it.
Actually I don’t see any of those
poems right now myself, but you never know
when one might show up, so we have to keep
this space open. You can’t always tell
just from looking at them, either. Sometimes
they’ll look just like a regular poem
when they roll in . . . you’re reading along
and suddenly everything
changes, the world tilts
a little, angle of vision
jumps, your entrails aren’t
where you left them. You
remember your aunt died
of cancer at just your age
and maybe yesterday’s twinge means
something after all. Your sloppy,
fragile heart beats
a little faster
and then you know.
You just know:
the poem
is right
where it


Scars are like ocean waves, but dried
(and pearly too), mountains who have tipped
their caps and now can’t remember when
or why (or who), comets that always manage
to come by, rockets that jettisoned
stage one and two but press on,
no memory of ignition,
earnestly obedient to
trajectory, to thrust, to the
nameless being that remembers
simultaneously all things
and nothing (call it Santa Claus,
or God, or the electroweak
force), that which inures itself to
itself, that which takes every last
molecule of your body and
uses it for something else, if
not today, eventually.
Scar tissue is patience, and scars
ignorant mercy, memory
tough and carried on the skin.

For Crippled Things

Once I turned from thee and hid.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for crippled things —
For minds as sharp as cracked concrete;
For flab that sags, for joints and thoughts that will not come unstuck;
Forgotten lessons, wisdom . . . what? Nothing.
Growths that thrive and work left incomplete;
All legs grow tired, all clocks their hands get stuck.

All things imperfect, asymmetric, strange;
Whatever is transient, moaning, full aware that they’re hamstrung meat;
Lost pieces of walk talk see hear laugh run good luck;
He must love the lame — he made us in so wide a range;
We are his joy, his music all we sing;
Our praise is in our flux.

What Your Doctor Really Wants to Tell You*

Quit whining. No one wants to hear
your whining. Everyone has pain,
the timing’s off for all year
round. (I’m in over my head again.)
Does no one feel well anymore?
Sure, stolen moments of joy stain
a bogus record of drudgery, boredom, and chores.
No clothing can cover this refrain.

Does whining make your spirits climb the ladder?
No chiming clock could sound off better.
You dump your petty pain all around you;
You puncture joy — like life only found you
and made it hurt. You’re not alone here —
our faded smiles show pain is always near.

* The Professional Standards and Image Protection Division of the American Medical Association™ objects to characterizing physicians as uncaring and less-than-godlike. The AMA™ affirms that physicians are both caring and godlike.2

** Without a vote of the full House of Delegates, the American Medical Association™ neither endorses nor condemns any individual poem. A motion to condemn this sonnet failed by a slim margin in the House of Delegates. Therefore, the AMA™ studiously ignores this poem.

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