The Names of Snow by Katherine Bode-Lang


Of course we know how our language lacks:
it’s a tangle of tenses and borrowed words, irregular
verbs and mixed constructions.  Everything dangles
and we only have one word for love, a lament in itself,

echoed in every valentine.  But think of all the other words
that hold up their hundred definitions: sky, wish, tree.
Or snow.  There is sleet and freezing rain, hail
and “wintry mix,” according to our Pennsylvania weatherman.

We lay adjectives before nouns like gifts, hoping
when we say them aloud we’ll have made a new word,
when all we really want is more ways to say snow:
powder snow, flying snow, cotton snow.

As in Hokkaido, with such storms and so many names:
a light sprinkling of snow, snow at the foot of a tree, beautiful morning
after a heavy snow.  Names for snow we’ve never seen:
one or two characters holding the world complete.  As it is,

all the unknown words trail behind our thoughts, never
catching up.  Still, I bless and keep my mother tongue,
even as I miss the words for everything that falls: night,
water, father.  Perhaps it’s not the words I miss

because I could just say “peony-flake snow.”
But what if you did not know the heavy skirts
those flowers wear in early June?
Therein lies our sadness, the quiet in our mouths.



Read The Reformation: a Conversation with Katherine Bode-Lang by Jessamyn Smyth



Katherine Bode-Lang was born and raised in western Michigan. She is the 2014 winner of The American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize; The Reformation will be published this fall. Her chapbook, Spring Melt (Seven Kitchens Press), placed second in the 2008 Keystone Chapbook Contest and earned the New England Poetry Club’s Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award. She has published in numerous journals, including The American Poetry Review, The Mid-American Review, Beloit, The Cincinnati Review, and Subtropics. Katherine earned her MFA in poetry at Penn State University, where she is now an IT Trainer in the Office of Research Protections. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, Andrew.