Four poems by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon and is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on contemporary American poetry related to the Holocaust. Julia is the author of The Bear Who Ate the Stars. Her poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, and The Missouri Review Online. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and TENT Conferences as well as the Auschwitz Jewish Center. She's also Editor-in-Chief of Construction Magazine.

Epithalamium After 50 Years 
“A year of marriage counts as three” – Soviet proverb
Behind us, the Caribbean surf thrums, palm trees clap
their fronds against its wake to dull the edge of familial conversation. 
My grandfather raises his shaking glass: To the way you love your husband! 
He swallows mouthful after mouthful and motions all of us to drink. 
His tastes have changed from vodka to cognac to red Chilean wine
he gulps as though this drink could be his last. In 1962, after three tries 
he made it clear: I’ll never ask again. So grandmother said yes 
because he wouldn’t drink or fight or cheat or raise his voice. 
She liked his quiet manner of pursuit, that only one hand
could make a fist (he’d lost three fingers as a boy). Lost too, his ancestry
during the war; she liked that hers would have to be his own. 
They married in the only way they could: a courthouse wedding
with a Ukrainian shawl spread out beneath their feet, a world 
woven between them, salt and bread for luck, no rabbi or vows, 
and only one picture. She’s captured there against him, her eyes 
near-closed, in half-sleep maybe. His arm wraps her shoulder firmly, 
under his grip, shadows of her skin giving in (the hip would have been
too forward) and her linen dress is wrinkled and yellowed by light or time 
or their early means. Together, they weathered: fifty summer swims
under an aging sun, until it grew too dark to see each other’s movements
underwater; thirty Soviet snows when the trollies and buses wouldn’t run 
and he walked her three miles to the night shift, sat waiting on a snow bank
to take her home; nineteen years in a country that stayed foreign, where their bodies 
became immigrants to one another; three languages (none of which were home): 
Shut your mouth!
Xvatit’ Lyubanka. 
You know your mother always hated me. 
Goteniyu tayer! Again?
I’m not the idiot you make me out to be. 
She’s dead now. Miortvoya! 
But you still love her more. 
They raised two children; took one pilgrimage to the Holy Land
and one to the promised where they found a house with room enough
to sleep alone, him on their queen, her on the foldout, so tradition 
looked unchanged. Now, they vacation with the family on annual 
lush white beaches and request a room with two beds, waking
hours apart and lying under separate umbrellas, staring far beyond the horizon
where sky and ocean blend to an indiscernible blue, a thing
                    they both called beautiful once. 




REM Behavior 

Last night, I tried to hear the way you do, pressed
my helix to the contours of your ear and waited, pressed
harder and waited, but the pulsing never came. 
I fell asleep against your skull and then it came on 
like a blood rush rusting through, like dream –  
you wanted me
dead and used your hands, with knives, toothpicks 
and hot tomato sauce (because in dreams the world 
makes sense like a kaleidoscope of senses) and there
we had two children, girls I think, (Joy, I called them both)
but you blamed them, (for what? I did not know then) 
so I begged, (hands outstretched as though you’d feel them)
begged, that it was all my fault, begged you spare them, 
cowered, fell to our pearl-made floor: everything around 
white in echo, (please, please, forgive) as the words repeated, 
but you still couldn’t hear – 
with a butcher’s knife, 
claw-curve of some unnamed beast, you marked 
my back, and kept on striking to the stroke 
of heavy sleep-rhythm. Awake, I hear it, 
like the rocking wave, like the whisper of a hammock
barely moving in an unknown distance: I hear it – 
some darkness, bare and beating, a darkness 
all your own, dull, hollowing your heart’s 
unsteady pulse: an echo fading in and out of touch.  


Unhinging the “M’s” 

Metaphor: compares an apple to a spoon and fork to death and then unlinks them from the sunken contours left on sheets when dinnerware shaped bodies take to air 

I burrow down into your pillow 
once your head is gone and bury 
dreaming under the scent you’ve left behind 

incomparable to silver stirring tea.     

Meter: measures just how long is left, forgetting to account for breaking  

your lungs are spider webs
and I have lost translucent 
count of tear and tether     

when one line ends, the next is never certain.  

Metonym: chains vultures to light to god to augury out of lexical ligatures  

you don’t believe you’ll live 
to see our children grown
and I believe you’ll live
but doubt those other lives  

a future of metal made un-precious by what has touched it.    

Mimeses: imitates at truth, an oak out of an oak out of a smoking valley evergreen, and continues miming, signing, acting out   

I forgive you your sickness 
forgive the anger lodged 
in your stomach like a worm  
forgive the desire to cut it out 
as though your flesh were apple
and fingers made of knives   

once nothing stands but a ghost of what was never there.  

Modernism: wishes for return beyond knowing 

I’ll hold you like a winter leaf
imaging you are not made 
of snowfall and rot  

that romantic gesture contrived out of the body’s certain absence. 



Shaping Your Body

These are not the parts and poems of the Body only…  “I Sing the Body Electric,” Walt Whitman 
Take history, this moment, study it 
through webs of skin 
that link us
bone to bone and silence us 
away from body. 
The heart worn 
inside out, the lip, 
a clef that won’t make music, 
the bone, 
return to it again, and find it 
find it white and broken and 
not yours. 
I. the drop and tympan of the ears
is silent is     autumn 
is the growing and the root 
the part of you
most different from myself
is all the color 
of a season you can’t shed 
is being born(e) 
is music heard inside 
but echoed
out of salt and water 
and the belly. 
II. waking or sleeping of the lids
give us dream-language. 
i wanted to hear, you said,
the Milky Way in winter, your voice,
floating by us, slow 
and blended, I wanted to say, 
the forgotten part of dust, goodbye. 
I knew you kept it, i’m sorry, 
an extra vessel, black and slowing,
i’ve thought this through, your rhythm, 
I even knew just where, 
i’m too tired, across the edge of a word
I can’t repeat, you’re better off 
without me, its sibilance wound 
winding my wrists to yours. 
i am sorry, you sounded out, sounded
out of body and of sleep. 
I begged or maybe prayed 
that you would wait, 
wait out the night, i’ll try,
and in the morning, i will, 
I came and kissed them
your waking 
or sleeping lids. 
III. Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth
are out of order. We don’t kiss 
this way. And the breath?
That too is missing.  
IV. The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud
: It’s easy to love you, 
My answer: but it’s hard 
to be in love. How naïve then
to place all that weight 
on difficulty. How young. 
And years from now,
I’ll hear your slow steps
struggle up the stairs
to bring me water. 
I’ll measure time 
by their approach.
V. neck-slue
The head hidden 
behind its iridescent 
watercolor spill 
and soft white feathers
breathe against the wind
or chill or I imagine 
they’re still breathing
because there is no blood
no sign of struggle
no joy in it 
this gaze at wings 
unbroken, or the pink
and childlike claws 
stretched out 
as if to catch a secret
they once carried.
No joy in it, I must repeat:
no beauty that’s not stolen. 
And so, for days I watched it
stay against the pavement, 
a dead pigeon, its neck
bathed in bone-white slues 
of unbroken sunlight. 
VI. and the partition
I cannot find it. 
That hidden place
you never had a need to hide. 
Show me, my love,
that imaginary horizon 
where your body 
where mine 
ceases to begin. 
VII. the ample side-round of the chest 
the glute and thigh, cheek and cheeks and 
paper? love—
we don’t write letters anymore.
so what will they find 
of us?             these words? 
how ample: a pay stub, the trace of voice, 
your worn carpenter’s glove, some sunken
places where we wrote each other 
in voiceless, bodied language.
And then that blot, browning
the shape of an eye 
you can no longer tell 
was blood once, was yours—
an ink 
you spilled too sparingly or not
sparingly enough. 
VIII. Ribs, belly, back-bone
without the hands
to tell the time 
your body has remaining,
and you have lost 
the right to want
to end it all, no right to take
what is already being taken—
that pulse and ring and tone
inside your ear—your skull
a drum of wooden bone that cracks
and counts the cracking, measures
just how deep 
to burrow past the flesh 
before the marrow’s reached
and you 
are nothing more
than sundial,
blank and waiting 
for a shadow to be cast
IX. all the belongings                     of my or your body
let’s hold them                               in the way of water
cupped and risen                            slip-spilling 
from my hands                               to yours 
X. The circling rivers 
tell this story—ours: 
if Prometheus stole breath   
instead of fire,  
he would have taken yours
and in exchange, he’d feed you 
cooling, risen wind-light, 
and lift 
on your sweet air, your 
body bound 
onto his own, 
as gift, as last