The Hospital Poems / Jim Ferris


poems by

Jim Ferris

Poetry book, 70 pages, $15 cover price

ISBN: 978-1-930907-52-2

Release date: 2004

Winner of the 2004 MSR Poetry Book Award
as selected by Edward Hirsch



Jim Ferris

Jim Ferris was born and raised in Cook County, Illinois. He attended parochial and public schools, including brief stints as a student of Chicago’s Spalding School for Crippled Children. A former newspaper reporter, televison producer, and gas station pump jockey, Ferris has won awards for his teaching as well as his writing. He currently teaches disability studies and communication arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


The Hospital Poems is a multi-voiced work that crosses a divide and reaches out to the crippled and disabled, to what is sick, wounded, and orphaned in us. It is patiently, scrupulously alert to the enclosed world of the hospital. I consider it a deeply personal and empathic work.

Edward Hirsch
Final Judge
2004 MSR Poetry Book Award


Part memoir, part medical horror story, The Hospital Poems is a stunning collection keeps you spellbound like a great novel. With power, precision and a healthy dose of savage survivor humor, Jim Ferris reveals  monstrous truths about being a crip kid at the mercy of the fix-it fanatics. This masterful work is a significant contribution to the growing body of disability cultural literature.

Cheryl Marie Wade


These are songs of great lucidity and unimpeachable individual dignity. They comprise together a book of enduring resonance.

Rodney Jones


The Hospital Poems is humane testimony to the power of our imagination to make sense of affliction. In these unfaltering poems, Jim Ferris debunks the spectacular myth of the possibility of medicine’s “triumph” over illness, and instead reveals the truth that by speaking empathetically of suffering, we make it honestly and indelibly our own.

Rafael Campo

Poet of Cripples

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.



Across Oak Park Avenue
is a city park, lush
and busy, where men play softball all

evening, too far away
to watch, their dim voices
drifting across the green. Their cars line

the streets as far
as I can see. Sammy and I,
Robert and I, Hoffmann and I call out

the makes and models
as the cars pass. Dodge Dart.
Chevy Nova. We are seldom wrong—Corvair,

Pontiac GTO—we who drive
wheelchairs and banana carts—
Mustang, VW, Rambler American—who have not yet

rounded second—
‘57 Chevy! My dad had one of those—
who watch out windows a world so soft—T-bird

so fair—Corvette
so normal—Ford Fairlane
a world going on, going by, going home.


Child of No One

Orphaned for the first time
at five—no one died—
Mom just took me to the hospital.
And left. At once I am waif
and ward of the Shrine—damp and trembling
clay to be molded under the sign
of the fez and scimitar.
They issue underpants,
undershirt (sleeveless), white nylon socks,
blue jeans, sport shirt an old man might wear
if he was small and unlucky. All
orphans are equal—all need fixing.

I am allowed to keep my shoes,
one sole thick with cork to make up
for my lack. Say goodbye, kid. You’re
with us now—inside. And our lives are theirs.
Nurses rule, white-cap commandants
who yield quickly to lab-coat gods
with stethoscopes, scalpels, saws. Chief
divinity is a bald, distracted gnome
with half-glasses tipped on his nose.
Weekly worship, Monday rounds. Parents
unseen, unheard, afternoon visitors,
distant kin who evoke indistinct
images of life outside the orphanage.

But until we make our sacrifice,
until our bodies are corrected,
until the gods deign to let us go,
we are children of no one,
wards of the Shrine, patronized
by jolly mystics in fezzes, orphaned
by our flaws, our families, our fate.

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