Dorothy Duffy’s ‘My Sister is Not a Statistic’ is a heart-wrenching poem about the author’s sister who died from COVID-19 on April 4, 2020.
Throughout ‘My Sister is Not a Statistic’ the poet speaks about her sister, Rose Mitchell. Rose died in April of 2020 from COVID-19 and in this piece, Dorothy Duffy expresses her exasperation with the way that the news and government have been treating coronavirus victims as “statistics.”
Explore My Sister is Not a Statistic
After her sister Rose passed on, Dorothy Duffy wrote this poem as a way to collect her emotions and express her opinion on the treatment of COVID-19 victims. The lines express her love for her sister as well as all the things she was to her and to others in her life. She was far more than another statistic for the news media to report on. She was a mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, and great grandmother. These are the things, in addition to her kindness and laughter, that the poet hopes her sister will be remembered for.
You can read the full poem here.
In ‘My Sister is Not a Statistic,’ the poet engages with themes of death and memory. She has accepted the fact that her sister has died but she is unwilling to accept that her sister is just another number on graphs governments and news agencies put out. This is not the memory she wants the world to have of her sister. By conveying her sister’s humanity, she is also alluding to the complex lives of everyone else the pandemic has taken.
Structure and Form
‘My Sister is Not a Statistic’ by Dorothy Duffy is a forty-eight-line poem that is divided into two stanzas. The first of approximately equal size. The poem does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, that doesn’t mean that it is entirely without rhyme. There are a few examples of full and half-rhyme in the poem if one looks closely. For example, “lines” and “eyes” are half-rhymes at the ends of lines four and five.
Duffy makes use of several literary devices in ‘My Sister is Not a Statistic.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and imagery. The latter is one of the most important literary devices that a poet can use in their work. It occurs when the poet chooses to emphasize a particular experience. This is not only something they can see but something that one could hear, feel, taste, etc. These lines are usually clearly described and easy to imagine. In this case, the poet uses imagery to create a clear picture of her sister and what she meant to her. By listing out words and phrases that define her, the poet is helping everyone get to know her.
Alliteration is a type of repetition that occurs when a poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “curl” and “curve” in line two as well as “sister” and “statistic” in the refrain used several times and the title.
Enjambment is a common formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four as well as lines twenty-six and twenty-seven.
Tomorrow, when the latest Deathomoter of Covid is announced in sonorous tones,
While all the bodies still mount and curl towards the middle of the curve
Without the feathered kiss upon her forehead
Without the muted murmur of familiar family voices gathered around her bed,
Without the gentle roar of laughter that comes with memories recalled
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by thinking about the newest death toll that’s going to be released by the news media. Her sister is going to be included in the tally and she is upset by the fact that her sister is going to be referred to as one more body among many. She isn’t, the speaker asserts, a “statistic.” Her sister, Rose, is far more than that to her. She spends the majority of this poem going through who were sister was and what her sister meant to her, as well as things that she wasn’t defined by. The latter includes “an older person with underlying health conditions.”
Her sister’s true “underlying conditions” included “Kindness / Belief in the essential goodness of mankind / Uproarious laughter” and many more. The poem uses a refrain, the line “MY SISTER IS NOT A STATISTIC” to emphasize that fact several times.
The poem includes the poet’s recollection of how her sister died—alone, without her family around her. Such is the case for many such victims of COVID-19 but, the poet wants to drive home the point that each victim was a person as alive and as important as her sister was.
Lines 26- 48
Evoked from a time that already seems distant, when we were
connected by the simplicity of touch, of voice, of presence.
MY SISTER IS NOT A STATISTIC
She was a woman who spanned the seven ages.
Whilst we who have been left behind mourn deep, keening the loss, the injustice, the rage.
One day we will smile and laugh again, we will remember with joy that, once, we shared a life, we knew joy and survived sadness.
You are my sister …….. and I love you.
The second half of the poem is similar to the first in that the poet spends several lines setting out all the things that her sister was. She lived “seven ages” and became a grandmother and a great grandmother. She was a sister, friend, aunt, and carer. She was “not a statistic” nor is she now. IN the middle of this section, the poet takes a moment to note that no one who has died during the pandemic should be considered a statistic. They are all “wives, mothers, children, fathers, sisters, brothers” or another kind of loved one.
The poet looks towards the future in the last lines of the poem while also addressing her sister. She knows that one day they will be together again, just as all those who have lost family members will see them again. The world is not going to remain this dark forever.
Readers who enjoyed ‘My Sister is Not a Statistic’ should also consider reading the following poems on the similar subject matter:
- ‘Hymn to God, My God, In my Sickness’ by John Donne — written from the perspective of a dying man who’s hoping to go to Heaven after he passes on.
- ‘The Rest’ by Jane Huffman — a moving poem that conveys the reality of lung disease.
- ‘Diagnosis’ by Meena Alexander — focuses on the news that the poet has a terminal illness and her response to this information.