The Friday Poem on 03/06/22
Our poem this week — on our first birthday! — is ‘PROTECTION’ by Helena Nelson. We like the way the speaker talks directly to us, inviting us into her experience, explaining her thought processes and steering us through her changing understanding of the meaning of the morning’s news story. The poem is conversational — even chatty — throughout; the ending sounds tentative, even throwaway. But the subject of the poem is a serious one. Nelson understands that we all want protection, from one thing or another, in this life, and her poem leaves us with just a little bit of hope that we might get it.
You need to understand the context.
There’s an English verb: ‘to be in mourning’
and it applies to me and I am in it.
I’m in mourning for my sister who has died
so when they talk about ‘women in mourning’
I relate to that.
As I did yesterday
driving to work before the sun came up
with Mishal Husain talking on the radio
about a medical survey and its results.
‘Women who are mourning people,’ she said,
‘are less likely to develop breast cancer’. What?
Mourning people as opposed to … dogs? cats?
‘Women who stay up late at night,’ she said,
have a significantly higher risk’.
Well, how bizarre! The irony of ‘late’ did not escape me,
nor that women less at risk might mourn
for other women already lost to cancer.
But what intrigued me most was the thought
that mourning might protect the mourner.
Not once had it occurred to me that grief
(for anyone) was beneficial, but I liked
the thought of a tested truth that turns out
counter-intuitive. My late and darling sister—
how she’d love to think that grief, though grim,
protected us from something grimmer!
Then turning left for Windygates, I heard
the headlines. The wording had been changed.
Women who were ‘early risers’, someone said,
were less likely to develop cancer than those
who stayed up late. (Perhaps someone in mourning
had alerted Today to the risk of homophones.)
Slowing for the speed-bump stretch in Kennoway
and obscurely disappointed by correction
I spent some time considering protection
and what it was grief might protect me from—
protect all of the women in mourning, in fact.
Probably not breast cancer, but still