person Brianna Cunliffe, two poems

Brianna Cunliffe is an environmental justice activist and writer from North Carolina, currently studying at Bowdoin College. They served as the 2019 artist-in-residence at the Kent Island Scientific Station in the Bay of Fundy, and worked there at the intersection of climate research and the poetics of place.

*

barefoot falls

I watch the goosebumps rise, crawl
over her, tidal, sweet
skin giving in to the pouring consequence of spring
with a howl that welds joy to blazing sky,

join her in the tangle of
wildflower foam
running down the mountain
pinned by sun-shafts to the banks
and she slides down, submerges,
this raucous ceremony, baptized together
holy mud and root-prayers scraping raw
and a gasping breath
as the animal of my body
roars under the skin
and every bright cell comes clean

*

in translation

the desert behind my eyes is burning
this verdant hungry green mocks it, but I know
it is calling me to go
to go there. to go without
and use the lack to see the presence.

I sing the ancient line between worship and terror
when we wander, starved, and think we are holy

it is calling me to go there, without,
untongue. snarled there around the barbed wire fence
is a scrap of fabric from the place the pilgrims go
red against the endless sand.

I can only listen, now, but once I could read it
the language in the dry creekbed
once I could speak it
the lines on my father’s hands

the call to prayer sounds
in the streets of the old medina
a fast broken with a last wisp of sunset

once, maybe, I could speak
before I learned it
the language of sun letters, moon
a family of roots, tangled meaning
stubborn as holy as olive trees in the desert
so I kneel and dream of thirst
in the place where the pilgrims go

you cannot learn a language
alone.

*

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