Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach and Luisa Muradyan
From: When the World Stopped Touching

April 26, 2020
Dear Luisa,

I went running for the first time
in months, and save for a few
mask-covered faces, things
looked mostly unchanged:
the couple kissing on a bench
overlooking the water was probably
just as in love; the college girls
in neon pants sipping iced lattes,
just as young, even more careless;
and the mothers, just as worried
about their children. But no,
there were far less mothers. Almost
no children. Along the five-mile
stretch of river trail, all four moms
with kids in strollers and on bikes
wore masks. We made eye contact
like sharing a secret. Like
Chernobyl. When poison
light fell from the sky, turned
air into the monster-under-the-bed
parents tell you isn't real, but you
feel it under the sheets. What
did yours tell you about the blast?
Its aftermath? Mine remember
being told nothing. Watching others
watch the air catch fire, a magic
only children see. I imagine
the dark cloud moving closer
until it shadowed the Dnepr black,
but we were lucky, Mama tells me,
winds blew the monster West,
I didn’t see it, she says, but
our cousins evacuated Kiev,
burned their clothes before
entering our house, and
stayed for months. It was harder
to breath, uphill, especially,
the stroller nearly rolling back
against my weakening weight,
the Batman fabric ballooning
at my lips, out and back, wet
and heavier with each return
to skin. Its own small mushroom
cloud. Black and ignited
with what tries to save us. Each
inhale/exhale, deliberate,
a reminder to be grateful, to hold
each other’s gaze an instant
longer, Luisa, dear Mama, this air
is invisible to everyone but us.

April 27, 2020
Dear Julia,

My parents always talk about the vodka,
how a cousin showed up
at their apartment with a carful
from government officials who gave
it out to his village in an effort
to get people to stop drinking
radioactive water. I’ve been drinking more
than I should but I’m measuring everything
by imaginary numbers now, 13 is the real
number of weeks my mother was pregnant
when the explosion happened. It’d make
a great superhero origin story
if my superpower was something better
than the ability to get cancer faster
than the average man.
My father has gotten it twice now
and this time I don’t know how the saga
will end. A burning building? Sure. An evil
villain with a plot to ruin the world? Most
definitely, though none of those things feel
imaginary now. My real superpower
is that I can become invisible, my body
a series of empty spaces that when opened
reveal another series of empty spaces.
There is nothing here, you can’t even walk
around because there is no floor and no rug
and yet so many versions of myself have gone
in and stayed.

Poets Luisa Muradyan and Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, both mothers of young children, have been sending each other nightly poems (structured as letters) as a way to process the overwhelming experience of parenting, writing, and existing in the unprecedented time of pandemic. These letters are continuing and accumulating to the book-length collection, When the World Stopped Touching.

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach (www.juliakolchinskydasbach.com) emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was six years old. She is the author of three poetry collections: The Many Names for Mother, winner the Wick Poetry Prize (Kent State University Press, 2019), finalist for the Jewish Book Award; Don’t Touch the Bones (Lost Horse Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 Idaho Poetry Prize; and 40 WEEKS, forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2023. Her recent poems appear in Blackbird, American Poetry Review, and The Nation, among others. Julia is the editor of Construction Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philly with her two kids, two cats, one dog, and one husband. You can also find her on Twitter at @JKDPoetry.

Luisa Muradyan emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when she was a child. She holds a Ph.D. in Poetry from the University of Houston. She is the author of American Radiance (University of Nebraska Press) and was the Editor-in-Chief of Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts from 2016-2018. She was also the recipient of the 2017 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. Additionally, Muradyan is a member of the Cheburashka Collective, a group of women and non-binary writers from the former Soviet Union. You can also find her on Twitter at @LuisaMuradyan.