To break and lift a frozen pane

and see my city made strange,
now, in these warming streets,
the way fires at Frost Fair once
made all that was constant tremble,
a shiver of flame, fire on ice, 1643,
the country shook as it watched.

Just as the glint of refraction
distorts the story handed down
of how a skein of snow locked
a ship into ice at Nova Zembla,
the bitter weeks of past and future
held in the long cold of the moment.

How did they dream in that white
echo? Everything drained, thinned
to a blankness, pattern that lost
all pattern, a bleakness that took
Wilson Bentley a lifetime to define.
Snowflake, no two ice flowers alike.

Oh, my poor language,
that offers so many words for snow
but never the weather to use them,
only this damp longing for silence
that is sleet, that is slush, that might be
a city made strange, life under water.