Poems by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach


Nature must be a mother


to pour : thunder : punch

through potholes : hoping this

will make something : anything

: grow : she must be moths : mouth

wide : wings panting for lightning :

who else would strike herself : flame

veining the air? who else would bear

children to rise in spring : only to feel them

cut months later? the moth’s

charred outline on a log : the double

wound : her children’s heads sinking

: left to dry on another mother’s

windowsill : who else would ask

for such a violence?


Week 39: Water : melon

June 19, 2019


60% of the human
body is water : 71%
of the earth : a woman
pregnant  is earth: you :
a planet : drowning
the sun : coaxing
its flare : you’d heard
to stimulate labor :
hook your nipples
to a breast pump : let it
do all the morning’s
work : release
oxytocin : shift hips’
polar ice caps : drain
rising sea levels : beg
whales stop swallowing
plastic & birthing
dead calves & drawing
your son to the water
: the morning myth
worked : that night :
two contractions
per hour : soft enough
to let you sleep between
: & with dawn : every
10 minutes & an hour later
every 7 : walking your son
to school and back : 2 miles
& on your thighs : no water :
not yet : another hour
& you ask to move
your husband’s doctor’s appointment
earlier that day : I’m in labor
: you say : don’t you want to
take care of that first : the receptionist
protests : but no : you want
your child’s father to stop
shaking : steady enough :
to hold your daughter
when she’s born : to sever
the channel between : your blood’s
currents : no : you insist
& they let you come early :
his doctor : concerned
: uncomfortable : don’t have this baby
in my office : I delivered one once :
& didn’t like it : you have time
you reassure: grip
the armrest : exhale
waves : feels like my back
is on fire : your husband
describes one of his many
symptoms : you stand : bend
over : strain spine to ease
pressure : your back
charcoal : stomach
a choking whale : experts
watch your husband walk : jerked
side to side : spasms
: tremors : twitches : so many
descriptors for one
conclusion : undiagnosed :
the pain grows : you apologize
each time : blame your body
for both your aching : sink
your stomach towards the earth
: stretch your sacrum : I’m hungry :
you tell him & go out
for lunch to make sure
he eats : labor outlasts
meals : you spread
your legs : bring your head
to the table : eat one
fish taco : go to the bathroom
twice : apologize again :
5 then 4 then 3 within
minutes : you go straight
to the hospital : guilty
you didn’t make it
to the pharmacy : his doctor
prescribed an anti-
anxiety : to stop
the movements : help him
gain control : as you lose it :
your hands not steady : enough
to sign yourself in : 12:25 PM
: no living will : he signs :
no directive : emergency contact
: husband : his back thrusts left
but ink makes it to the page : you’re
admitted : still only 4 cm : 12:53 PM
you burn for 3 minutes : water
everywhere : boiling : breaking : not
broken : 8 cm : she’s coming :
you say : feels like I have to
poop : you say : I’m sorry : I’m sorry :
I’m gonna stop apologizing : you say :
but can’t do it: on all fours : on top
of the hospital bed : they wheel you
up : your husband holds
the back of your gown
closed : you’re ready : it’ll feel better
to push : you disagree : do it wrong
at first : forget to breathe : rapid : short
: exhales : it’ll take longer this way :
they tell you : hold your breath :
pause : then let it out : slow: you’re holding
your thighs : husband by your head
: seems to have steadied : on the next
contraction : big inhale : one long exhale :
the midwife instructs:
1st push : she’s moving now : burning
is good : you’re a corona : 2nd push
: the head  is coming : crowing : her skin
rimming through yours: precious
stones sliced into metal : splitting
: 3rd push : shoulders and the rest of her
slips out: 1:25 PM : you can’t believe
it’s over : you keep repeating : how fast :
you’re meant for childbirth : they say :
do it like in the movies : like
what everyone wants to believe
childbirth is like : her white-filmed
body to your chest : vernix coating
like powdered sugar : I can’t
believe she’s here : river
out an ocean : cane
from saccharine stalk : I can’t
cut the cord : her father says
: your thighs still shaking :
fresh & sweet out of salt :
she’s perfect : white water
out of more water : as though
she wasn’t made of your
bone & seed & earth : your
blood : but water : all along


Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner of the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State University Press, 2019), finalist for the Jewish Book Award; Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize; and 40 WEEKS, forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2023. Her poems appear in POETRY, Blackbird, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the new Murphy Fellow in Poetry at Hendrix College and recently relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas with her two kids, a cat, a dog, and a husband.


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