Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach: Three Poems

For the lost songs


where the shiksa cuts butter
with a meat knife and the rebbe
tells you to cover it in ash
set it on fire among the coals
and stick it in the straw earth
to make it Kosher again

where Odessa is a pearl by the black sea
and Kostya brings her scows full
of cephas and at 7:40 she opens
and closes to Jews and you hear

the orphan boy beg in Yiddish
for you to purchase papirosi
and the poor girl sells

bublichki because her father
reaches for the vodka and mother
for the dishrag and sister for the man
who pays for her reach and then

the lover blindly repeats
tumbala tumbala tumbalalaika and let’s
be happy all the while
wondering if he will
ever be


For Light in Soviet Winter


The first time I got coins, my father
made me keep it secret, made me
choose a chocolate gift and
take my time with choosing

how to keep it secret
from the store clerk and my mother,
who took her time with choosing
which candles wouldn’t glow

bright enough for the store clerk
to know the origin of light
came from our candles’ glow
behind dishtowel curtains

the first time I got coins. My father
believed in something then:
choosing a chocolate gift to teach me
the secret origin of light.


Things the river forgets:

that it is water,         moving and     unmoved

its refusal       to ask             about the blood

that my grandfather walked into its mouth and nearly drowned
         when the current rose to his knees

that he swallowed sand and heard it             crack his lungs

that at the surface    core and corpse and corporal      can’t be
         ground to coriander

that we too are made of seeds

its own image flowing powder         out of our hands

his body is not as heavy as it was once

bones          hollow as a seagull’s

the little left will wash up on these banks in swaths

jellyfish that tried     to live in freshwater     but winter’s current
         carried them to salt       and spit them back out

that he was quiet     quiet underwater          when a child
         pulled him out

an ungraspable fish

that he wasn’t          in a river          at all

that the sea is just a mouth

                                                             -full of rivers

Reprinted from Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020)



(Featured photo by Ekaterina Izmes)

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