Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach: “Practice Children Don’t Survive the Holidays”

2019 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize finalist selected by judge Alexis Rhone Fancher

The shock of this poem, coupled with the poet’s precise language and brilliant imagery, made for a fantastic read. Each time I read this poem, I was blown away by its audacity and strange logic. It knocked me out.

— Alexis Rhone Fancher


Practice Children Don’t Survive the Holidays

I’ve killed them all.
Lola, Layla, Hedwig.
Always named them
first, Fran and Nancy.
Too much or not enough
water or light. They don’t belong
on kitchen sills, inside
cubicles, but I’ve left them
to dry or drown, even
suffocated one once, windows
closed in summer, the car air
too static-hot for new buds.
I was gone minutes, iced
coffee, minutes, I think, maybe
a smoothie, but returned
to a littered backseat, white
petals already curling
brown at the edges, closing
around my finger on reflex
like newborns’ involuntary
grasp when you stroke
their palm or sole. But flowers
live quietly and die
the same. The latest
was burning. I didn’t know
I had it in me      to go that far,
to do it                with my own hand,
but during the last night’s prayer,
the candle’s wick was longer
than expected. By the time I’d lit
all eight, the first flame rose
so high, it singed right through
the orchid. Nancy, she’d lived
the longest, a gift after the three
I’d killed before, after
I made my husband
swear, no more. After
he’d gotten me one anyway,
paper origami blooms
arranged with wire, grown
stable out of charcoal stone,
assuring me, there is no way
this could die. The trees
she’s made of burned
as quietly as skin.

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