Elizabeth Metzger

Several summers ago, while participating in Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, I visited the Kunstkamera, Russia’s first museum of anthropology and ethnography. In the first collection of “Natural Sciences,” a round room containing Peter the Great’s collection of scientific and medical wonders, I remember, among the whisperings of a language that seemed made for whispering and the array of odd-looking animals, one section of preserved human babies, referred to in the English as “monsters.” Among vital misshapen organs, there were jars upon jars of preformed embryos and floating stillborns. In a time before science could detect many of these medical abnormalities in utero, many babies were carried to term and deemed monsters upon birth. There were twins conjoined at the head, a fetus attached to a dyed-orange placenta in a vessel decorated with seahorses, a child’s lace-sleeved arm with hand somehow still grasping. Outside of the modern discourse for understanding genetic mutations, medical conditions, and disability in general, I was awed, moved, disgusted, and free to feel the fears of a potential future son gather inside me and around me. This imagined son, whom I still dream about, desire, and am already terrified by, took on all my Fear and Self-Consciousness. My imagination turned inside out, into a son who could overpower and confound me with my own obsessions. This son has visited me in other poems as a companion. He is my unknown, the one I beckon though he threatens to stop me from speaking.

“Small Talk with an Imagined Son” has been “gestating” all that time, and has developed as my idea of a future son has become both fleshier and more fantastic. In the poem, I speak to the unborn son about my fears for him. Even at a distance of time and space, he begins to take form and deform my own assumptions. Just as the babies at the Kunstkamera seemed supernaturally alive, both dead and forever unborn, in this poem I speak as long as the son cannot, while he is still within me imaginatively and not yet within me physically. I bless him to keep him from cursing back.



I’ve felt cold enough toward you
to soften a diamond with my teeth.

All right, I’m a little afraid.

It’s the zeroing in of All That Could
Possibly Go Wrong vs. Myself.

I’ve crawled over your first potential steps
marking and proofing
the sockets of the world for charge.

When the dialogue of one God
is split and distributed among humans

I’d rather you be dumb
than electric.

I hear you sobbing for me
like a grown-up man
deep in the loins of a white-walled obsession.

See, I’m afraid reciting every lord’s and post-
lord’s prayer.


Elizabeth Metzger is a University Writing Teaching Fellow at Columbia University and the Poetry Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal. In 2013, she won the Narrative Magazine Poetry Contest. Her poems and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming from the Kenyon Review Online, the Yale Review, Southwest Review, and Guernica, among other places.

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