Wednesday Nov 29

DasbachJulia Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated as a Jewish refugee from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine in 1993. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Oregon and is in the University of Pennsylvania’s Comparative Literature Ph.D. program. Julia’s poetry has appeared in Green Mountains Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Guernica, and Nashville Review, among others journals. Her manuscript, The Bear Who Ate the Stars, won of Split Lip Magazine's Uppercut Chapbook Award, and can be purchased from Split Lip Press. Most recently, she was the winner of Burlington Book Festival Short Works Writing Contest and runner-up of Southern Humanities Review’s Auburn Witness Poetry Prize. Julia is also the Editor-in-Chief of Construction Magazine. Find out more by visiting her website.


Mistress of Malachite
After Pavel Bazhov

I. Legend of Her Land  

Where tufted taiga forests carve their way
up the Ural mountains and towering
Siberian firs leave needled kaviors souring

the ground; where in the valley, snowmelt spray
feeds fields of alpine squills and winding wild
violas, and downy birches bend as low

as weeping pea trees under heavy snow;
there, artists wander, lose themselves to find
her garden, keeping their callused hands

outstretched, forgetting all their children’s names,
or even why they came
to seek her flowers made of jewels and sands

and stones that grow alone in the thin-high
altitude of Soviet air, and are said
to be more beautiful than blossoms fed

by earth-sun and its waters and the sky.
Widows and the orphaned girls can still hear
lost-men calling, singing from below:

trapped voices echo
stories of her hidden Serpent Hill, how year
by year husbands and fathers are transformed

under her ice, taught how to make gems live
more carnal than a body, to give
into captivity for art, and never to return.

The women have remarried now, their new
spouses’ art all looks the same: the vases
and chests made of her malachite stand face-

less, waiting to take on her living-mallow hue.

II. Her Invitation to Masters of Rasps and Rifflers  

The Iset and Sosva will slow for months
under a pane of quartz, and you,
with careless steps, will crack their crusts

to reach my frozen fields, following
a pack of lynxes whose granite
coat you take to be my rock-thrush

mating call, my chisel-crafted cry
under a pane of quartz. And you,
be not afraid of what you are imagining:

the pain felt under, or in holding
        quartz. Come to me breaking,
broken into igneous light, the mountain’s

eye open against a cloak of Siberian
winter day-nights. You,
who dream of freeing the form

asleep under a pane of quartz.
You, who think that centuries
of driving hammer, mallet, drill or antler

have made you masters of an art a man
can never touch with his bare hands.
Come to me un-manned, as claw,

as toothed chisels. I will show you how
to rise the flesh out of the stone,
to make it yours under a pane
of quartz: freeze her blood and breath and bones.

III. From Her, I am the One Who Got Away

“Why did you come here brother?” Their tools
moved as one and they spoke one voice.
“You know hers is an art you cannot hold

above this place. A stone-love, Brother, so heavy
on your master fingers, you cannot leave
            once you have cleaved your first.” But love,

an earthbound love, is why I came. “Stone, brother,
it grooves so deep, soon, you won’t remember
wanting flesh against your hands.”

I whispered Katya, Katya, Katya…
“Soon, you won’t need air not born
under her caves of man and rock.” I tried

to whisper it again, Katya, Katya, Ka… (who
was I calling?) I sat among the workingmen,
gems piled around me like giant fallen fruits.

One handed me some amber off the ground,
“Look,” he said, “It’s pleading to be something else.”
        I chiseled until it became an auburn

stream of hair against my palm, so real the curls
         wound round my fingers, shifting colors without sun.
                "Beautiful, now emerald!" And I carved

green eyes to peer out beneath the fiery waves.
         "Ruby!" A mouth, a hidden smile inside the curve
                 wound round my fingers, shifting colors without sun.

“Take marble, give her shape. Take opal,
dress her in furs.” I stared, then ran my hands
across the grains (as if to feel a heart beat),

but couldn’t bring the chisel to the white. Who is she?
         I closed my eyes. “Show us, Brother, stone-love,
the mistress you have seen.” I cannot feel

her shape here. “We can bring you others. Name them:
Sand, lime, yellow perhaps?” No, I need her skin.
        “Stone-skin?” They did not understand,

having forgotten so long ago. There was no time
        to explain. “Don’t go,” they called. One voice,
one unbroken movement. “Brother,

you will forget us, this art, this love.” But I needed
to remember it (the artless name of her):
a body, one un-cast in stone.

Orchard in Odessa

This backyard hasn’t bloomed yet.
Still, from inside this house that was
my grandmother’s, I scan the ground
for last year’s fallen harvest: cracked
peach pits strewn about like bird feed.

Babushka, where is your shape
among the trees? Crosshatched
by shadows and splinters of sun, are you
severe and sinking to a ground
unlike this one? A now gone ground,
once canopied by branches, heavy
with soft, bursting fruit, ready
for your picking hands. You fluttered there,
from tree to tree like some lark
out of a childhood I’ve forgotten, filled
your apron with the ripest fruit, and when
its cloth was stained with sticky juice,
you’d lower to your knees and let it all
roll back onto the earth. That’s when
you’d call me to inspect each downy head,
find the ones that had been burrowed in, so you
could open up the soil, return
the peach and worm together there,
and whisper:
Once flesh is gone,
the seed inside can rise. But nothing
ever came of this: the pressure
of your hands, your prayer:
Rise, rise again, a ritual, unfulfilled—  
Once under earth, you like seed, like worm,
were, are, gone.

                               Your echo lingers here
unanswered, and crows have gathered now
to pick apart your land. I should run out
and make them scatter, I should –
have taken better care, of you, of this,
the place I saw you last. I’d bring
each fallen peach pit to my lips
to find the final thing you touched.
But without the rise, the bloom
of prayer, your grove is wrought
with black,
                   unblossomed feathers.

The Nursing Home Bus Stop

I saw it happen: first, a bench, then
a newly painted metal sign, and last,
that box of maps showing the route

this number 54 would take. Before long,
the usual weekday crowd began to gather,
until a nurse explained: The real 54

stops a few blocks away. I watched the bench
stay empty after that, until one winter morning,
before first-light, a man walked out

in underwear and slippers, scarf and hat.
He paced under the awning, digging
at his sides as if searching for coins.

When it was bright enough to see,
he sat and fell asleep to the vibrating hum
of passing cars. Perhaps he dreamed.

Perhaps of being taken somewhere
he remembers. What would he find there
but a family that isn’t his, playing house

past once familiar windows?
I imagine he would wake back in the Home,
unaware that the adults gathered at his bedside

are his children. The nurses told me,
He used to be a baker. And so wakes early
to prepare the dough, to let it rise, making

enough sweet rolls for a week’s worth
of breakfasts. And they let him. Just like that.
Like they let him wander outside

when he is panicked that he’s lost his wife
or mother or a life he still recalls. They let him
stand for hours under the glare of street lamps,

ankle deep in ice-glazed puddles, cracked and imperfect
like fallen full moons, waiting for a bus
                                                                  that will never come.