Two Poems

Poetry / Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

:: My Mother as a Failed Sonnet, or Maybe Just a Forest ::

I’ve written you as rivers, as frost, as everything 
hidden underneath it, as a children’s picture 
book in a foreign language, as language, that one and all 
others, as your hands and those of your mother and 
hers, most often hers, as what she held in them, as 
the empty tea kettle, as everything she’d lost, the dead
and their sea and its unsinking, as salt, as what abandon 
must mean and what it must taste like, war
and famine, immigration and tea,
Ceylon, Lady Gray, Darjeeling, as the fortune 
it leaves at the bottom of spent cups, and as 
those cups, carried across ocean and name, as water,
generations and generations of it, mothers’ 
open hands, as bare Russian birch branches 
grasping for clouds, as what a child sees 
looking up in a forest.    


:: While everything falls apart, imagine how you’ll teach your son about death ::

when he rips a dandelion head off its stem 
and wonders why the body shrivels  
or the pregnant stray gives birth
to her calico litter and you find two of them 
wedged underneath your car tires that winter
when the drunk woman across the street falls
leaving parts of herself down every row-house stair
last night’s howling in her lungs and on your windows
and the neighbors drape her body well
before the ambulance arrives 
he will ask where they’ve all gone and why
look up instinctively and wonder 
and you’ll confess you do not know
hold him and say nothing 
about elsewhere being better or everything
happening for a reason 
you’ll hold him as though your hands
could weigh him down 
could keep his bones from growing
as the clouds move slow
he’ll notice for the first time
they are white “Not blue?”
he’ll ask surprised and you will nod
say something about the shapes of animals 
then he’ll remember the flower and kittens
the dead woman
                                             “Will they come back?”
and you’ll again stay silent 
because the lawn is full
of broken glass and water bottles
full of piss and dog shit full             
of yesterday and you will shake
your head and think you’re doing right by him 
it’s better he know now you tell yourself
and watch him look away and up
search for the dead inside the clouds


From the writer

:: Account ::

These poems are part of my col­lec­tion The Many Names for Moth­er, which explores how the weight of my Jew­ish-refugee expe­ri­ence has influ­enced grow­ing up to raise a first-gen­er­a­tion, bilin­gual, and mul­ti­eth­nic Amer­i­can child. Its poems obses­sive­ly tell, retell, and hov­er around trau­ma and absence—ranging from ances­tral his­to­ries to my per­son­al expe­ri­ence of immi­gra­tion to my trav­els to Easte­rn Euro­pean death sites as a descen­dent of a USSR Holo­caust sur­vivor. 

My Moth­er as a Failed Son­net, or Maybe Just a For­est:  

I’ve been try­ing to define, to name moth­er­hood. I’ve been try­ing to under­stand who I am as a moth­er by delv­ing into who my moth­er is as a moth­er. I feel like I’ve spent my life try­ing to write her to get clos­er to under­stand­ing. The attempt of this poem at def­i­n­i­tion was failed from the start, just like the for­mal con­straint that can­not con­tain what it means to be a moth­er. I’ve been think­ing a lot about moth­er­hood not only as the con­tent of a poem, but moth­er­hood as an ele­ment of craft, moth­er­hood as not only poet­ry but poet­ics. Behind the fail­ings of def­i­n­i­tion and form with­in this poem is an attempt to see how moth­er­hood becomes a form and name all its own, just as it rejects both.

While every­thing falls apart, imag­ine how you’ll teach your son about death:

On elec­tion day, Novem­ber 8, 2016, my son turned one. We began his birth­day with an excit­ing trip to the polls, but by the fol­low­ing morn­ing, excite­ment turned to dread, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, we all know what has fol­lowed since. Try­ing to grap­ple with rais­ing a tod­dler in the midst of what is going on in our coun­try, I began writ­ing a series of poems, “While every­thing falls apart, imag­ine how you’ll teach your son [       ].” In them, I strug­gle with how to respond to the ani­mos­i­ty espoused by the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion, how to teach my son com­pas­sion in the midst of such hate, and how to remind him where he comes from—urging him to remem­ber our named and un-named pasts.


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 PhD can­di­date in Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, where her research focus­es on con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can poet­ry about the Holo­caust. Julia’s poet­ry col­lec­tion, The Many Names for Moth­er, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poet­ry Prize and is forth­com­ing from Kent State Uni­ver­si­ty Press in the Fall of 2019. She is also the author of The Bear Who Ate the Stars (Split Lip Press, 2014), and her recent poems appear in Best New PoetsAmer­i­can Poet­ry Review, and Nashville Review, among oth­ers. Julia is also Edi­tor-in-Chief of Con­struc­tion Mag­a­zine, and when not busy chas­ing her tod­dler around the play­grounds of Philadel­phia, she writes a blog about moth­er­hood, Oth­er Women Don’t Tell You