Let the father give
the first bath, the midwife instructed
but not until the wound
has healed. Wait at least ten days
before washing, before breaking
his face away from my skin.
He’s not unclean, she explained
my son’s waxy coating—vernix
caseosa, filament my body left, a gift
of second skin—protects
against infection—group B strep,
E. coli, distance, other common
pathogens. We’re going to separate
your kids so they can bathe,
the agent instructed at the border—
the children not seen again.
How washing can make the body
my son looked less than
human that first time—
rising just above the water’s
at something other than
my body, perhaps knowing
in his bones
dirt washes away
as easily as skin.
His father’s hands
worked gentle, slow, to reassure him
Julia Kolchinksy Dasbach is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother (Wick Poetry Prize, Kent State University Press 2019); Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press 2020); and 40 WEEKS (YesYes Books 2023).