The Reformation by Katherine Bode-Lang


Vulvar Vestibulitis Syndrome, a subset of vulvodynia:

“chronic vulval discomfort characterized by burning, stinging, irritation and rawness of the vulva, or exquisite tenderness to touch on the vulval area or attempted vaginal entry”[1]

“...of unknown etiology and course with no agreed upon treatment”[2]

When my mother asks, tell her the fucking is fine.
Eight years, and we still have to love the tender parts of me
like a colicky baby.

No babies, though.  None of the rollicking
that would make them.  Just you.
You writing down the results of the culture this time.
You there every month when I open my legs
for the doctor’s needles, swabs.

No one knows how you do it: the long drive, the hand
holding, that awkward standing next to the nurse.
When I say no one, I mean my mother.
I mean my sister, who feared it would be hers too
until the first boy.  My father imagining my V spelled wife.

No sex.
They wonder why you stayed.
My mother, who could not hold my father
without it.  My father who returned to her only for dinner,
her long hair.

Those of us raised under the hand of Calvin,
we have been taught: lovemaking will break us against
our lover, fix us to each other anew.  Come to the Midwest:
there are thousands of girls, blond ponytails, waiting.

Waiting because we have been told.  Waiting because
we have not touched ourselves.  Waiting because
he might not stay.  Waiting for the aisle, the lifting
of the veil when we can finally call his name.

Those of us who are the eldest,
who knew no better, whose cheeks stung with sin,
we never expected it to hurt.
You and I never expected red and swollen.  Never expected
it would stay past the vows, the first night.

Hear how this is, Mother?  How my body pulled itself                                    
into the loudest no—the only part of me that knew
how?  Hear how this is, Father?

Mother, all my windows are broken.  Father, I have crossed
my legs raw.  But do you see, Father, how he stayed?
Look, Mother—he stayed.

They do not know how you hold me as a teacup,
how you are so gentle as you sip the porcelain rim.



[1] Wylie, K., Hallam-Jones, R., Coan, A., & Harrington, C. (1999). A review of the psycho-phenomenological aspects of vulval pain. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 14, 151–164.

[2] Goldstein, A. T., Marinoff, S. C., & Haefner, H. K. (2005). Vulvodynia: Strategies for treatment. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 48(4), 769–785.



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.