‘The Man with Three Legs’: Diana Hendry

From the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of St. Andrews

‘In the autumn of 1948 a message was received from a rural practioner stating that in the course of a vist he had discovered a man who, from the cursory glance that had been permitted, had a large sacral appendage with the appearance of a massive tail.’


The Mother

He was a monster, yes,

but he was my monster and I loved him.

His father would have done away with him

when he saw that limb, that leg

with its curled up foot hung from behind

like a huge tail.  Always between prayer

and drink, my man.  Said he’d been sent

as a punishment for our sins – your sins

he’d say, looking at me mad-eyed

for he’d rather the boy was not his at all.

The runt of the litter, he’d say, that freak.


His brothers and sisters were sworn

to secrecy with the threat of the belt or worse.

I’d take him out in the pram.  Until he was ten

I could hide him in that.  We’d walk in the woods.

I’d sing to him.  He’d sing back.

I hoped the thing would fall off or shrivel away.

I dreamt I’d wake one morning and find it

on the floor and him as normal as the others.

When he was too big for the pram

I bought him a kilt.  And when he grew out

of the kilt I made him a long flannel gown.


O the shame of him.  And the blessing.

My youngest who I loved the most

and kept most hidden.


A Local

As bairns we cried him Frankenstein –

Frankie fir short.  He was oor monster,

ken whit ah mean?  Fowk said how

he’d be oot at gloamin in the woods

happed in a lang sark, nae breeks

an wi this awfy tail hingin oot ahint him.


Maw telt me no tae be daft.  She said

he’s naebit a puir body who mendit watches.

We didnae believe her.  We thocht him a deil,

hauf mannie, hauf beastie.  Me an ma pals

wid daur each ither tae throw clabber and chuckies.

Gie us a look at yir tail! we’d shout

and laugh tae see him fleein hame.


From the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery,

University of St. Andrews

‘The operation consisted of little more than careful dissection through fibro-fatty tissue. Any difficulty lay in the pre-op preparation of the skin and then in fashioning suitable skin flaps.  We thought we’d gained his confidence during the unsavoury task of preparing his skin and suggested he celebrate his successful treatment with a shave and a haircat.  The suggestion was received in silence and disregarded. He showed neither pleasure nor gratitude. The post-operative photograph was secured at the second attempt only after angry words and our accusation of ungracious behaviour.’


The Patient

I knew I was a medical curiosity.

Those photographs!  Essential

for the treatment plan, they said.

Me, stood there bollock naked before

strangers!  Even with my back to them,

even in the polite medical silence,

I heard the ghost of my father

calling me freak.  I could tell

they were writing their paper

in their heads. I ask you,

who can photograph the mind or the heart?


They expected to be thanked

for making me ‘normal’.

Suggested ‘a change of personality’.

Gave me trousers.  All I felt

was loss, as if what had been

taken away was who I was –

father’s freak, mother’s blessing.


Afterwards, I stayed home, mending watches,

seeing no-one.  A stranger to myself.


From the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery,

University of St. Andrews.   Postscript


‘In spite of our hopes to the contrary, it became evident that this unfortunate man had lived too long with this tumour to change his ways.  He returned to his room and his watches and was not seen outside the house.  Whatever plans he had for the future, his new-found freedom proved short lived. He died unexpectedly at his home three months later from an acute infection of the urinary tract.’


Museum visitor

In its glass box, the leg

looks like a joint of meat.

I can picture it in the oven.

It would feed about ten.


The exhibit is entitled

Supplementary Appendage. Leg.



Reproduced with Diana Hendry’s kind permission from The Hand that Sees, 2005, ed. Stewart Conn. Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh/Scottish Poetry Library


The poem has also been published in: Late Love & Other Whodunnits (Peterloo/Mariscat Press)