WOMAN WEARING AN ARTIFICIAL LEG, 1890-1910*
Like fish and chips,
we're wrapped in dated news.
Our wooden pegs,
the text that makes us legible
from the photo's point of view.
We came here all together
in a long and limping row
that shed the sound
of footfall pounding
up and down the street,
our rights and lefts resounding
like a clock's tick-tock
The cameraman left
stacked tall like charity,
then he shuffled to his tripod, threw a cloak
about his head
and coughed to say
my skirt could now
be hitched up to the right,
and for the sake of modesty
ensure my face
is out of sight.
They cackled down the queue in front
to watch my tongue
and cheek and nose
twist and stretch in wretched jest
as right behind my paper face
I pulled a wicked pose.
The cameraman was horrified
to see my sisters shake with glee –
he couldn't see my funny face,
assumed they mocked my leg and me.
He hushed them, tutted, spluttered,
muttered pleas for sympathy
and mutely wondered if these hags
were somehow less humane than he.
For I, he strutted boldly, blessed
with all my legs and feet,
can still find time within my day
these limbless ladies to portray
and though I leave them half-undressed
I let them mask their blushes
in a folded, old broadsheet.
Behind the print
we pull a smirk,
remind you how most words mislead
so don't believe
and challenge everything you read.
For while he lined up limping ladies,
crooked, wounded, on a chair
he did not know we kept our laughter
hidden from his camera
and his photographic stare.
So focused on our stumps was he
and framing through a lens
he didn't see that photos
could like newspapers be read –
his camera tripod was his eye, his crutch,
his very own prosthetic head.
*The poem is entitled 'Woman wearing an artificial leg, 1890-1910' after a photographic portrait of the same name.
The image is currently on display as part of the 'Superhuman' exhibition at the Wellcome Trust, London. Click here to see the photgraph.
Eve Lacey is a librarian based in Cambridge, UK. She is currently researching
disability in children's literature with a David Almond Fellowship from Newcastle University and Seven Stories
museum, as well as editing the website for Thresholds: poets in residence at the University of Cambridge museums