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 Poets, American 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.