Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “The Museum of Medical Curiosities” by F.J. Bergmann. Bergmann writes poetry and speculative fiction, often simultaneously, and is the editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association sfpoetry.com, and poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change mobiusmagazine.com.
The Museum of Medical Curiosities
Once a month, she rides the bus into the city,
and then gets on another bus that stops
a convenient two blocks from her destination.
An ancient edifice—brass railings, marble tile,
high ceilings—the building echoes, whispers
of footsteps descending from floor to floor,
holds a spectrum of shadows. Glass-fronted
display cases contain dusty dioramas, yellowing
descriptions, diagrams, skeletons, skulls, examples
of what could be treated by medicine at that time
and what could not. Documented deaths
of bygone celebrities now fading into history.
A saponified corpse, fatty tissues turned to soap
Diminutive ear bones delicate as hummingbird
claws. Cabinets full of drawers, themselves filled
with small compartments, holding hundreds
of objects children had choked on, each one
accompanied by a neat note detailing whether
it had been removed before the patient’s death
or after it was too late.
She stands in front of the Fetal Deformities
case, looking at the pale, translucent thing
in a jar labeled Hydrocephalus. Wonders
whether the infant they never let her see
had looked like this.
Poet’s Notes: I enjoy museums and have written poems about more than one. This poem describes the Mutter Museum (pictured) located in Philadelphia; its fascinating exhibits are well worth visiting, which I have done many times. However, the experience must be quite different for those who have lost loved ones to the conditions therein sampled and displayed—and the further back into the past one goes, the more appalling the circumstances.
Editor’s Note: I particularly enjoy the first stanza, as I am a medical doctor. The poem would have worked well had it ended with it. Then I read the second stanza! What a sucker punch (in a good way) after the sadness induced by the last line of the first. Also, I appreciate the implicit message or moral lesson that the second stanza delivers.