Season of Ash and Penitence

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

He says he’ll celebrate
Ash Wednesday by smoking a carton
of cigarettes.  Before the sun rises,
he’s puffed through a pack.

In the early light, she repots
the plants and hopes
they’ll perk back to life.

He knows his daughter has skipped
school, and he spies on her secrets,
such stereotypes, nothing original:
the boy he has banned,
the fast car, an empty bottle.

She didn’t mean to burn
their lunch to cinders
as she counted out iambs
on her fingers, a successful
sonnet at last.

They engage in the same fights
as the sun sets:  who neglected
which chores and how they wish
for changes that seem impossible.

In the darkening dusk,
we all gather in the church.
Our pastor smudges ash
on our foreheads, as tender
as a mother feeling for fever.


Kristin Berkey-Abbott
earned a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina and oversees the General Education Department at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. Pudding House Publications published her chapbook,
Whistling Past the Graveyard, in 2004. In 2011, her second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents, was published by Finishing Line Press, who will be publishing her third chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction, in 2016.

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