Poet of Cripples – 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.
One of the highlights of teaching composition this summer has been engaging with excerpts from the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. There is a wealth of great poetry in this anthology, which includes the work of Ona Gritz, Hal Sirowitz, and the writer of this week’s poem, Jim Ferris.
What I love about this week’s poem, “Poet of Cripples,” is how Ferris takes a singular experience and sings it in such a way that it becomes personal for the reader. The stakes engaged with via the poem quickly become familiar; the speaker’s intimate address of Look with care, look deep, is in the tradition of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Poetry becomes, for Ferris as it was for Whitman, a way to access our hidden void and push ourselves to what we would become.
This poem’s momentum makes me think of another Whitman-influenced poet, Pablo Neruda, specifically his lines at the end of “Alianza (Sonata)” where so much intangible and conceptual feeling is evoked through language that is felt in the body:
…I feel your lap’s heat and the transit of your kisses
creating fresh swallows in my dreams.
At times the fate of your tears rises
like age up to my forehead, and there
the waves keep breaking, destroyed by death:
its movement is damp, decayed, final.
Both poets meet at the place where language and the body meet to affect each other, like waves making and unmaking the shore.