The themes of Cheryl F. Damian’s Ashes to Alleluias are well represented by this slim volume’s packaging. The cogent cover copy highlights the author’s affection for the natural environment, which is further developed by Shirley Springsteen’s charming illustrations in black and white throughout the interior. Realistic pencil sketches of ladybugs, butterflies, sunflowers, and roses decorate virtually every page.
The cover copy also mentions the author’s Christian faith and her struggles with depression. Damian herself contributed two illustrations, one of Christ and another of an angel. (The latter accompanies a short prose piece about collecting angels.) The attention to faith, spirituality, and religion dominate the other favored topic of nature.
The tone of the poems feels genuine, suggesting that the resolutions are hard-won, as in “Into the Storm”: Blindly, I wandered/ into the black and raging night./ I struggled just to stand/ hanging on with all my might.
The insights come across at times as commonplace, an effect that is enhanced by the reliance on rhyme. However, the author’s voice establishes trust immediately with her audience and the book records a genuine struggle to come to terms with grief, bitterness, and anger, as evident in such poems as “The Unforgiving Heart”: The unforgiving heart/ never learns to just let go. / It’s stuck within the past/ with never room to grow.
The volume would have benefited from the inclusion of more poems like “Nature’s Song,” which affectionately describes simple details of the outdoors without insisting on heavy religious symbolism. In addition, a bit more variety in form, including unrhymed verse, would have helped. Still, while the themes and approaches are familiar if not clichÃ© at times, readers of faith who struggle with depression may find insight and support in Ashes to Alleluias.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.