Facts of Life

Jim Ferris

“I was just another crippled child,” writes Jim Ferris, “a leg among legs….” Ferris’ poems are part howl/incantation, part laughter at an absurdly crooked world. They are reverently irreverent, unsparingly direct, grinningly playful and haunted with hurt. Ferris keeps the reader somewhat off-balance — the better to alter our mental gait so that we make both more and less of disability as a measure of being. “This is my body. Look if you like./This is my meat, substance/but not my substance….”

Jim Ferris is a poet and communication scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a particular interest in humanities-based disability studies. With experience as playwright, performance artist, director, and actor, he has performed widely in the U.S. and Canada, and his writing has appeared in dozens of publications including the Georgia Review and the Michigan Quarterly Review. At the UW-Madison, Ferris led the successful effort to establish a disability studies cluster as part of the university’s interdisciplinary hiring initiative, which will result in the hiring of three scholars in disability studies over the next few years.

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Instead of putting cotton in my ears
to pretend I was deaf,
instead of closing my eyes and wearing sunglasses
to pretend I was blind,
I’d pretend I could walk
like everybody else, like my brother,
my neighbors, kids at school.

I’d pretend for days, for years,
that I walked like everybody else.
Someone would always correct me-
can he hobble over here and try this on?-
but I was persistent, insisting on
seeing myself as a regular kid,
standing out for my wit, my charm,

my intelligence, not my walk.
I still pretend-I think of my walking
as walking, not something
beautiful or unique.
Like a poem, it is enough
like all the rest to be recognized,
but different enough to move me

through the world.