“si’ulq, pānī” by Moni Brar, from Arc’s 2021 Shortlist


si’ulq, pānī

she takes me deep
into her people’s land
this stranger turned neighbour turned
friend points out antelope brush and grey
sage unwavering in summer heat
spear grass pierces our skin
as we wade through lamb’s quarters
pulsing the want of seeds
through tufted vetch and shepherd’s
purse capped with rounded clusters
while red-tailed hawks scratch the clouds

into the valley marked by bloodlines
where dreams were swallowed whole
we skirt ponds that give life
to horned grebes, wigeons, and buffleheads
spot a lone merganser and a common loon
too early for blue heron to break
the glazed surface
we revel in the silent miracle of Water
si’ulq, her mother would say
pānī, my mother would say

up the notched hills
to watch wild horses roam free
careless and cared for from a distance
I learn palomino, bay, pinto, appaloosa
they twitch not for us, but for the Sun
xai’ałax, her mother would pray
sūraj, my mother would cry
and for the Moon
sokemm, her mother would ebb
chand, my mother would flow

she takes me deep
onto forest floors I’ve not known
a cathedral of soft light
we count the birds
naks, usil, kałis, her mother would sing ik, ,
theen, my mother would recite
walk beneath the watchful gaze
of red-winged blackbirds and evening grosbeak
there are no willows weeping nearby just
the sound of a black-capped chickadee
making its way home



nina jane drystek on “si’ulq, pānī”

In Moni Brar’s poem the speaker navigates the landlines and lifelines that have brought us to our present location. Through an exploration of landscapes and language, the poem unwraps the intricacies of relationships and offers a way forward for us to walk together by listening. Filled with musicality, this poem rustles like the breeze in the trees.



Born in northern India, Moni Brar now lives on unsurrendered territories of the Treaty 7 region and Syilx Okanagan Nation. Her writing explores the interrelation of time, place and identity in the immigrant experience, diasporan guilt, intergenerational trauma, and colonization. She believes art contains the possibility of healing. Her work appears in PRISM, Passages North, Hobart, Vallum, Existere, and others.



NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: Readers of the Summer 2021 issue of Arc Poetry Magazine will notice that Moni Brar’s poem does not appear alongside the rest of the Poem of the Year Contest shortlist. Due to an honest mistake, before our issue went to print Brar’s poem appeared in Prairie Fire vol.42 no.1 with the title “She Takes Me Deep.” As a standard for most literary magazines, Arc secures First North American Serial Rights (i.e. the poem must not have previously been published) and, therefore, we were not able to include “si’ulq, pānī” in the issue.

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