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Letters About Literature National Winners 2009

National Winner, Level 3: Amelia Leuer

Dear Ms. Linda Pastan,

I am not a poet. I do not know if, when you craft words into poems, you seek to reflect your own experiences, or to affect and change your reader. Maybe both. Whatever your reason, your poetry has touched my life. Earlier this year, I had memorized and recited your poem “Caroline” in class. Originally, I had envisioned the woman described to be advanced in age and expecting death. Recently, tragically, these beautiful words became transformed to me in an amazingly powerful way.

I can’t explain how devastated I felt when I received a phone call that my younger sister, Annette, had been in an ATV accident. Annette was the star pitcher of her softball team, an aspiring piano player, the president of the girls’ choir, and an A honor roll student. To me, no one was more vibrant or invincible. My family and I were left helpless and all we could do was relentlessly pray to God for a miracle.

We spent the following days in the Intensive Care Unit, watching Annette bravely fight a losing battle. I didn’t recognize my sister behind the machines which kept her alive and beneath her swollen face. I witnessed her labored breathing, resulting from two collapsed lungs. Seizures shook her body. One thing went wrong after another, with each defeat more heartbreaking than the last. Then came the inevitable day when my family chose to discontinue Annette’s life support.

Despite the pain in our hearts, there was a quiet peace that resided within us as we held Annette’s hands and said our goodbyes. I personally attribute a great deal of that peace to your poem, “Caroline.” Your profound description of a woman readily receiving her death was in every way illustrated in the final moments spent with Annette – “as gracefully as if it were a coat she’d learned to sew.” Because of an ironic conversation Annette had with my father a few weeks before, I knew Annette would not want to be kept alive on machines. Now I saw my sister as I’d always remembered – free of tubes and quietly resting. She waited until we had left the room to take her last breath, almost as if we were meant to remember her by her life rather than by her death. Death to her was simply a graceful closing the life she had sewn: “She’d simply button it and go.”

I still face the reality of my beautiful sister’s death every day. I’m often confounded as to how my family has managed to survive this, but I realize we can endure this pain only because of small miracles we experience every day. “Caroline” is one of those miracles. Was your poetry meant for someone like me? I feel like it is. Even this letter cannot describe my emotion as effectively as the words of “Caroline” capture my heart and comfort me. I wish for you to know my gratitude in how “Caroline” has carried me through the darkest week of my life and still continues to strengthen me today.

Thank you.

Amelia Leuer