“Poem for Elaine,” by Doug Sylver

When we receive submissions for the Elaine Wetterauer Writing Contest, each year we are reminded of the wisdom, heart, and love of language that Elaine continues to inspire in youth today. The Language Arts Department Chair at Nathan Hale High School, Elaine Wetterauer was a warm and passionate educator who impacted the lives of thousands of students, championing significant academic and cultural advancements within the school.

Language Arts teacher Doug Sylver of Nathan Hale has written “Poem for Elaine” in her memory, which we are touched to share in this post with Sonder readers. Doug also proposed the idea of a plaque commemorating Elaine’s commitment to the school, which is now featured on the wall of Hale’s Language Arts hallway. He writes:

“A few months before Elaine passed, I asked her permission to name our LA hallway here at Nathan Hale after her. She wrote that she ‘loves the whimsy of Wetterauer Way,’ the double entendre as well as the alliteration. Always the LA teacher. We now have an official plaque for her on the wall outside her former classroom. Yesterday, when I was looking at it, a student stopped and asked who she was. It was a joy (and a challenge) to try and describe her and that inspired me to write the poem.”

Read Doug’s poem below.


Poem for Elaine

Born in the Tule Lake
Internment Camp in 1944.
Welcome to the world!
Welcome to America!
Died in Seattle in 2015,
Lung cancer spread to her brain.
Never smoked, but always
thought.

She once went to a dollar store
But her only bill, a $20.
Tried to pay in coins
“TOO MUCH PENNIES,” the cashier yelled at her.
As if yelling in bad grammar would be better
better understood by one who understands the language
better than maybe everyone.
She told me this and I didn’t know
whether to laugh or cry
So I did both
In that order
Still am.

Before she left for good I arrived
uninvited at her home
disguised as an orchid deliveryman.
“She had radiation today,” her daughter warned me,
“Today’s not a good day. . .”
“Who’s there?”
from a shattered voice, from the kitchen.
When her daughter said my name
the shattered voice went,
“Let him in, please…”
I planned to stay ten minutes, deliver the orchid, wish her well,
perhaps a hug, and leave.
Ended up staying for three hours, although I tried politely,

respectfully to leave too many times.
I was fed miso soup, green tea, steamed dumplings with
chili sauce and soy sauce, rice.
I was told stories
I was asked for stories.

When I finally left
I had been
baptized blessed cleansed
by the beauty of the woman
who thought too much,
who gave too much
to far too many
like me.

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Thank you, Doug, for sharing your beautiful piece! 

Submissions for the Elaine Wetterauer Writing Contest are due tomorrow, Friday, December 8th, by 5 PM. The contest is open to K-12 students attending a WITS partner school. Students are invited to submit an original poem, story, comic, or essay based on the title of SAL author Jesmyn Ward’s novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing. The theme “Sing, _____, Sing” invites students to explore the subject of yearning, struggle and hope in relation to their personal experiences and to reflect on the world around them.

For more information on submissions, please download the WITS 2017 Elaine Wetterauer Contest guidelines.

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