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 Kolchinsky Dasbach is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of The Bear Who Ate the Stars (Split Lip Press, 2014). Her recent poems appear in Best New Poets, American Poetry Review, and Nashville Review, among others.