“Bunahan” by Laurelyn Whitt

Laurelyn Whitt


When the last speaker of Boro
falls silent,
who will notice

the first-grown feather
of a bird’s wing? (gansuthi)

or feel how far pretending
to love (onsay) is

from loving
for the last time (onsra)?

Quiet and uneasy, in an
unfamiliar place (asusu)

no one sees her, or listens;
there is less of her
than there was.

The last speaker feels

Boro’s world fall apart,

knowledge unravels:
healing plants go
unseen; the bodies of animals

are unreadable.

With a last thought, onguboy
(to love it all, from the heart),

she leaves fragments
of the world she held in place.

We touch their husks,
about to speak and
about not to speak
(bunhan, bunahan);

awash in loss,


The italicized words are from Boro, an endangered language still spoken in parts of northern India. For more on this story, see Mark Abley’s Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011
Tribute to Canadian Poets


Laurelyn Whitt: “Nearly 90% of the 7000 or so languages that are still with us will disappear, or be disappeared, before the century ends, according to linguists. With them will go knowledge and value systems, entire ways of perceiving, of living with the world. ‘Bunahan’ (‘about not to speak’) follows one endangered language into an extinction that does not have to be.”

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