3 Poems

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Yom HaShoah

April 19, 2012

I forgot to light a candle for them, I tell my husband, ask him to remember.
He answers: Dick Clark died. It was all over the radio. Remember him?  

Zachor, I whisper, while outside a stranger’s calling strangers
over a loudspeaker, names heavy and not ours. No one stops, remembering

they have somewhere to be: in bed perhaps, memorizing
a beloved’s face instead of those among the counted, remembered

only by this day, its country made of desert, and her people who
have lost so many of each other, the remembered

outlines hold more solid than the bodies left: my husband and I
not speaking now after that news he half-remembered.  

But my dear, recall instead buying fresh Keemun leaves, and how
we brewed them for my grandmother while she remembered

sitting silent with her mother, those last days when memories
were theirs to make rather than pass down to other family members.  

You know, one cigarette sparked a Golden Gate brush fire, my husband
finally says, perhaps coincidence, perhaps remembering—

Vikhlya Khalfin, babushka, age 92, died sleeping in the Hebrew Home:
dreaming she’d been shot through the heart or eye or burned alive.

                                                                                                                                    Remembering? 

 

Inheritance

I wish I remembered
my great-grandmother’s gaze,
the time she spoke turned inward
beyond where we are so alike,
the first time she told the story.
The room too warm, too thick
with honeyed light, and I too young
for her to think that I was listening.
Her features wear me now—the mole
on my left shoulder, soft, uneven
hips—I see her husband
in them. They echo his final vestige.
Taken away from a kitchen in Kiev,
the last place he looked for her
before the neighbor whispered
zhid and their house was left
empty until the war ended
and great-grandmother came back
to mourn his unfound body, her
hollowed home, the city
                                                   where he may have died.
All her silences and stories, full
I grew with them, full I’ll pass uncertainty
to my children, told or retold, history
or memory, until one, a fading pulsar, bleeds
between stellar glow and blackening sky.
And in that distance, who can tell
igniting times apart? The difference
between the lived and the passed down:
the sundial’s shadow at noon?   
                                                                    I’m wishing
again      today     still    last night—                                                                                                     
in flux like sand and water and ancestry.
I’m wishing for her to have told me
                                                                              his name.
Wounded, pocked, shot through, 
he walks beside me now, so close,
sometimes I think I feel his hand.
His body glows with stars. Blood stars. 
In a voice without gender or race,
I hear him call. And I am one among
the many, a blood star, and my children.
We will be the passing of light, body to body.
We wear our people’s blood and smear
the sky with it, so when the rest look up,
they too will see nothing                                 but faces in the clouds.

 

Eternally Sitting Shiva

We know there are these things that burn,
like wood and our own skin, too close
to smoke that rises without praying for return.

If there’s one thing our people learned
about the way that ashes decompose,
they know there are these things that burn

without leaving a body for which to mourn,
and searching for bones we’ve only found
smoke that rises without meaning to return.

I’ve read our history and when I turn
the page, millions of hands char the ground,
and we know there are these things that burn

like my own hands with which I churn
memory and fire doused with the sound
of smoke that rises without believing in return.

Stars calmly die and then again are born,
but the one that’s on our skin we can’t disclose
because we know there are these things that burn
to smoke that rises, always threatening return.

 

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 where her research focuses on contemporary American poetry related to the Holocaust. Her poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, The Missouri Review Online, and Narrative Magazine, among others. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and TENT Conferences as well as the Auschwitz Jewish Center. Julia is the author of The Bear Who Ate the Stars, winner of Split Lip Magazine‘s 2014 Uppercut Chapbook Award. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Construction Magazine.

 

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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 where her research focuses on contemporary American poetry related to the Holocaust. Her poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, The Missouri Review Online, and Narrative Magazine, among others. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and TENT Conferences as well as the Auschwitz Jewish Center. Julia is the author of The Bear Who Ate the Stars, winner of Split Lip Magazine's 2014 Uppercut Chapbook Award. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Construction Magazine.

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