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

naked, bald,

my son looked less than
human that first time—

rising just above the water’s
touch                           shock

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
of return.


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.