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Cheryl Cantafio
My Stay with the Sisters
My Stay with the Sisters is a book of poems that explores the different emotions and feelings that come with loss. The poet, who lost her mother to pancreatic cancer, drew from her own personal experiences and re-imagined grief and gratitude as sisters. Grief and Gratitude welcome those who have lost someone dear to them to a home-away-from-home, where they can visit different rooms and the poems within to find a place to cry, scream, reminisce, and breathe. My Stay with the Sisters is an immersive poetry experience for those who have lost loved ones.
In debut author Cantafio’s bittersweet poetry collection, Grief and Gratitude are sisters who welcome the poet mourning the loss of her mother to their home, where “each room [is] a place of solace” and no one has to “worry about making a mess.” Readers are invited to enter rooms of their choosing and witness the poet’s stages of cathartic unraveling that contain both misery and comedy. Grief and Gratitude represent a paradox that provides the basis for healing, and “if you can’t accept [them] both, loss is skewed,” because living with loss is a balancing act between opposing forces; it is holding multiple contradictory truths at once.

Some of Cantafio’s poems are piercingly somber, as in “mom’s the word”: “mom is the word left on the string// that connected our tin cans,” but a few succeed in straddling the line between heavy and light, as in “sit down, Billy”: “the Bard lied to us. // [...] we do not leave on // iambic pentameter. // it’s more free verse, less sonnet.” Incorporating various poetic forms, including villanelle and haiku, and Sutton’s charmingly disheveled, Shel Silverstein-inspired illustrations of the sisters’ home, Cantafio strives to lay bare the spectrum of emotional response to loss so that this purging may heal those in the throes of mourning.

In the house of Grief and Gratitude, mourners can find “an orientation point” amid the vast amount of space and grace that is required to walk from the room of acute grief toward another, where “happy feels like an // old pair of jeans you put on,// surprised they still fit.” There is no end to grief and gratitude; as the poet mentions, “this feeling was — and is — on a loop,” and readers looking for guidance on their own looping journeys through loss will find a gentle sanctuary in Cantafio’s collection and a visit with those sisters.

Takeaway: A poetic odyssey through the house of sisters Grief and Gratitude.

Comparable Titles: Edwin Arlington Robinson’s The House on the Hill, Roberta Bondi’s Wild Things.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+