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Summer Scholarship Winner

Melissa Slayton

 

Some Say the Inuit Have Fifty-Two Words for Snow

Most I fear maujuq, the snow in which one sinks.
You know that well: how your father’s car
let out a giant breath and relaxed into the white.
I fear to go like that, too, easier than a drowned sailor.
Maybe we are ilusaq, what can become a house.
After fierce storms, I shift through quanittaq, added snow,
and that strong stuff piled up in drifts, storm’s memory—
sitillinqaaq. I crave a snow that speaks.
What is the word for snow that lingers through February,
turns brown and rusts, nauseates the flowers?
By whatever home we get nilak, freshwater ice for drinking.
I need you to carry blocks of snow for miles.
To walk delicate, know not to break the ice.
But the man who broke the ice in our childhood game
is how you swam from the hole I bore.
That’s the best it usually gets—the promise of more,
the faith it’s coming.
Just beside my ear, the wind screams its shards.
You bring pukak, crystal snow, in your gloves.
Coming in from the snow, you say my house seems dark.
What is the name for all those types of snow
when they began as one?