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  • Cathy Stenquist

I think I have found

the new form of writing I have been waiting for.

- Free Verse Poetry-


Unlike Haiku or Tanka or many other forms of poetry, where you have a formula to follow with a syllable and line count, Free Verse is more like speaking, with a focus on bringing out the senses and emotion.



Rajani LaRocca is an author and poet who is a master at this form. Her latest middle grade verse novel RED,WHITE AND WHOLE is amazing. When I attended her webinar on writing verse poetry and she shared excerpts, I was in awe. The form and her heartfelt words touched me so.


Check it out here: https://www.rajanilarocca.com/novels/red-white-and-whole/


Today I would like to share with you one of my first free verse poems. It is about a coffee mug I found as I was going through my mother's house; one of the precious items I carefully wrapped and flew home with. Writing poetry has been helping me in the grieving process. Thank you, Rajani for opening my eyes to this form.


I welcome your feedback!



The Associative Principle

By Cathy Stenquist


I thirst.


Mindlessly reaching for a cup,

I curl my finger around a random handle,

and notice the shiny black and white image.

I don’t’ remember this being mine.


The cardinal’s song

trills on the breeze

that whispers in my window.

The clock stops.


A slight downward mumble

escapes me

in a shallow hush.

“Oh…Yes…

that’s right.

It’s your mug.

The one that you loved so.”

Padre Pio looks back at me.

With a kind, sympathetic glance.


But something’s wrong.

It’s not filled with Dunkin Donut’s coffee

or your hazelnut creamer

Nor in your Alabama kitchen

cupped between your cold hands

trying to get warm.


But rather,

empty

like me,

here in my kitchen

cupped in my aching hands.

Trying to comprehend

this cold

ceramic reminder

that

your gone.

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  • Cathy Stenquist

I lifted yet another cardboard box filled with memorabilia onto her dining room table. Even though my sister Diane and I knew we were opening our hearts up to more emotional triggers, the job had to be done.


Mom loved to scrapbook. So much so that she had created nearly fifty, (thats right, 50) three-ring binder photo albums over the course of her life, filled to the brim with birthday cards, Family Circle cartoons and scribbled notes like this one from my brother which made us laugh.

"Dear Mom (the great)-

Please wake me up when you get home.

Because I want to tell you something but I haven't decided what to tell you.

Love, Mike"


As I fished through the items that she had collected, I took my time to read each one closely. What might have seemed insignificant to me, was important enough to save for a future album. There were vintage photos of relatives whose names we will never know, newspaper clippings of her wedding day from the social pages - yellowed, fragile and ready to crumble, and prayers she wanted to remember. Each item had a story or stirred a memory. My kleenex box kept offering me its comfort, as sheet after sheet soaked up my tears. I paused and let the grief flow unbridled for what had been lost. My mother. My sweet mother. How I wished I could hear her voice just once more.



My beautiful mother, Nancy, at age 22 in 1961. She had two children,

and was a model in Chicago. Here she shows off ways to accessorize the "little black dress."


After regaining a bit of my composure, I pushed the kleenex box away and resumed sorting. A few minutes later, I came across a stack of letters, hand-written on school notebook paper. I thumbed through the edges. Sure enough, there was one letter for each of her five children. Looking closer, they were dated 12/25/15, the Christmas before my father had passed. I handed my sister Diane her letter across the table and we each began to read. The tears quickly fell.



I realized right away a previous conversation and knew where these precious notes had come from. In November of 2015, My mother made the very tough decision that she could no longer care for my disabled father in her home. With the support of her five children, she settled him into a skilled nursing facility. It was a very hard adjustment for both of them and Christmas shopping was the last thing on her mind.


"I'll just write you all check." she offered, feeling badly that she did not have the energy to create the perfectly wrapped and bowed packages she had in previous years.


"Mom," I offered, "you know what would mean so much to us kids? A letter. If you could take some time and just write us each a letter, it would mean the world to us. And best of all it will be a gift that keeps on giving every time we read it."


She smiled and got back to making dinner. I secretly really wanted that letter, but thought to myself, she'll just write a check.


Now 6 years later, I had found the five letters that for many unknown reasons, she had never sent. Originally written in black, they were revised in several other colors indicating the time she took and the importance she felt to get them just right. Words were crossed out and updated when she found a more perfect one; arrows redirected thoughts to a more meaningful place; things she wanted to emphasize were repeatedly underlined.


Just when we needed it, our mom's voice had reached out across the ethos to speak the words her children needed so badly to hear. You might think this Christmas gift was delivered too late, but I beg to differ. I think that they were delivered right on time.



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  • Cathy Stenquist

When you are a caregiver for two years and your mother passes away, it is nearly impossible to get in the mindset to write a children's picture book. My heart has been so heavy that I could not connect to my inner child.


I was a writer... who could not write.





I decided to put BITC and sit at the kitchen table, fingers on the keys and wait for something to happen. The wind chimes twinkled out the window, the birds flitted and sang. My husband popped his head in, kissed my cheek and asked how I was doing. The oven clock ticked away the minutes while my brain searched. Nothing. Not a word. Nada.



"Focus!" I told myself, "You can do this. You are a writer!"

I sat there a while longer totally blank. Then I remembered a little poem I had started on a torn piece of paper for Vivian Kirkfield's #50PreciousWords contest, about a boy who refused to eat his vegetables. It might be a start, I thought. I walked into my office and pulled out the "Poems in Progress"folder where I had tucked it away. Sure enough, the raw first beginnings of something that had gone nowhere.





Opening up a Word doc, I began typing in my scratch. There. Done. I stared at the words.


After a few anxious minutes, ever so silently, drip by tender drip, my brain began to open up the flow. What is the flow you ask? My writer friends reading this are smiling, as they know the very rare feeling well. It felt to me as if the words that had been bunched up against my exhausted grieving wall, now had a crack to flow through. Random thoughts stirred in my head, one leading to another. I found myself letting the hardness go. Words were added, reshuffled and changed again. Soon I was giggling as I read the stanzas out loud.


Over the next few hours, twoTWO first drafts poured out onto the pages.


When I finished a draft a few years ago before my mother's illness. I would call her excitedly and ask her if she had a few minutes to listen to my new story. With out hesitation, she would say, "Yes! Hold on a sec while I grab my coffee and pull up a chair." This small act of dropping everything, giving me her total focus and support was a gift that my beautiful daughter Erica Leigh gave me yesterday in her stead.


And so, this rainy Sunday, I will go to church and thank God for the gift of words he has given me and for day by day healing a little more of my heart. I am rediscovering Cathy again. And it feels good. May the flow keep flowing. :)


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