I don’t envy even 
————a second of your life,
my mother says, not 
————a single second. Babushka
agrees, pities me, the two
————unmanageable kids,
the disabled husband.
————It’s just so hard for you,
she says, recalling
————how her face burned
when she was left
————on the top bunk of the train
evacuating her family
————from Kyiv, the city not yet
surrounded, but certain
————to fall. War, more than
memory. War
————the way she names
her life. Missing
————without a trace. Her father
stayed back, died, and after him,
————she named her daughter
Light. He has to lie at Babyn Yar. 
————Where else? She asks, watching
the third-night candle smoke.
————I do not say black earth
is made of all our dead.
————I do not say I’m tired
of counting them. I say,
————I will keep trying
to find his name.
————I say, our people
are made of miracle
————and half believe it
when I ask my father
————about his dead.
He doesn’t know
————their names,
just that they never left
————Odesa. The shochet 
neighbor survived, he recalls,
————severed chicken heads
the godly way and lit
————Hanukkah candles
in their courtyard. He remembers
————smoke rising
against December,
————gray on black until
there was no trace
————of flame. But the past
doesn’t rise like smoke.
————There is nowhere for it to go
missing. The past is every
————fried potato and charred wick.
My son’s nail singed, singing
————over the candles,
the wrong words
————of a Hebrew blessing
we were never taught.
————The past rises
like swifts, perhaps, who stay
————aerial for months, digging
for earth in the clouds,
————abandoning the sky only
to make more birds,
————who will rise and rise
in swarms from narrow
————chimneys, who will refuse
to smoke, who will return only
————once having left
their names carved
————in unsuspecting air.



Julia Kolchinksy Dasbach