Letters to Banting


These excerpts “Letterthought to Federick Banting” are from Rachel Morgan’s debut poetry collection, Honey & Blood, Blood & Honey. This book occupies a tenuous place between illness and wellness, in the moments and years after insulin was discovered, making type 1 diabetes a survivable disease.

The poems in this collection move between direct address to the scientists who first discovered insulin in 1921, to the lyrical reflections of a mother as she laments the burden of chronic disease that comes with her young son’s type 1 diabetes. The language of science and parenthood infuse the poems, giving voice to the caregiver, where nothing is entirely gift or grief.

Rachel Morgan is the poetry editor of the North American Review, the nation’s oldest magazine, which is published at the University of Northern Iowa, where Morgan also teaches in the Department of Languages & Literatures.

Learn more about Rachel Morgan’s work.

Winter Letterthought to Frederick Banting, Discoverer of Insulin

This snow is melting before the next snow. How I hated the prairie when I arrived, its naked try-hard crops for miles. Two weeks after moving, we sat on the porch after dark, broken down boxes in the yard, catching our breath from the decade in the city. Holding illusions + hope + opaque. Inside our one-year-old son, asleep—already some invisible hitchhiker traveling the interstate of his immune system. Semis and train whistles sounded like leaving, otherplace, not here, no there, no where, now here. But, I have to tell you, Dr. Banting, there’s this moment that breaks and mends my heart. The summer he was two, I corralled plastic riding toys after a day in the sun, a new plastic smell, that next year I’d recognize as insulin, like opening a new doll from its package. Here’s the funny thing, I don’t remember the last doll I was given. Childhood ends a bruise at a time like winter trespassing with each colder day.

Intervention Letterthought to Frederick Banting, Heavy Drinker

The other side of causality is blame. The lake effect cold is early pushing its season, and there’s the 2 a.m. epiphany that confirms everyone’s own suspected genius. The determined sour gut attempting sleep that knows little of its inheritance. Stretchers are wheeled like prams, and cocoon-thin children are hungry for even a bird’s seed. The other side of blame is not causality. Banting, your actions have hurt no one and someone in the following ways: of a rented room in Ontario (single bed, $1 patent for insulin, floral funeral parlor carpet), of the first months in the lab (bloody apron, spectacles, heat wave); who’s counting how many more if it’s only the next one? A black book boils with ideas for experiments. A room full of comas for parents to mourn. When patient and doctor are equally starving, there’s one treatment option. Son of man, can these bones live? Son of man, these bones can live! Son of bone, these men, live. Son, whose bones my bones made live, can live.

Lucid Dream Letterthought to Frederick Banting, Scientist

In one language, I am sick translates as the sickness has come to me, meaning the opposite of serendipity, no luck, no fate, no godpuppet curling helixes of DNA. Chance favors the prepared mind, but when we run into each other at a conference, I don’t know whether to call you doctor, inventor, scientist or discoverer. You say it doesn’t matter. We wait in line for our chance to be contestants on a game show called, “A Dream Remembered From the Imaginings of a Garden of Eden.” I think grass under your boot-soles is the right answer, and you shout don’t touch the apple. Science, you remind me, is separating the curious from the incurious. Why not and if are the same question wanting to grow up into an answer, wearing a necktie, kissing the kids, saying dinner smells good, even if it doesn’t, even if it’s dumb luck.

Thank You Letterthought to Frederick Banting, Killer of Dogs

The trouble after my son’s birth foreshadowed his life, a grumbling thunderstorm that arrived all afternoon, but the future is a long time ago. I only mention this to you, Dr. Banting, because for a while I forgot how to be, but remembered after a year. Easter eggs, goldfish, preschool, outgrown instead of never worn shoes. After, I read of you and Best, chasing stray dogs in the streets of Toronto to depancreatize. Of course, this is the risk-benefit analysis, the price of science: cure, remission, faux pas, dead dog / rat / monkey / notchild, into child and child after child. It’s the lean and hungry, the erstwhile dead that we’ve inherited. Over a shaky drink of late nights into half days, you and I name what famous people we’d invite to dinner, now that people can eat dinner. Now that the dogs are dead. Now that my son lives.

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WRITTEN BY Rachel Morgan, POSTED 06/22/17, UPDATED 10/11/22

Rachel Morgan and her husband, Matt, are the parents of two great kids, Ava, and Henry. Henry was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age 3, and after his diagnosis, Matt and Rachel decided to use their training as educators and creators to share their family’s journey with T1D in the hopes of raising awareness and understanding for anyone affected by T1D. You can follow their journey at www.semisweett1d.com, on Facebook (Semisweet), Twitter (@semisweett1d), and on Instagram (@semisweett1d).