NO. 3 WINTER 2020
A M AGA Z I N E FO R M I X E D I D E N T I T I E S , S T O R I E S A N D VO I C E S .
Meet the team
Editorial PAULINE JEREMIE Founder and Chief Editor CAOLINN DOUGLAS Prose Editor MINA MORIARTY Poetry Editor
Design HAZEL MIRSEPASI Graphic Designer STEPHANIE ADAMS Creative Director and Brand Strategist PHOEBE BROADFOOT Illustrator
Community OLIVIA MILLAR-ROSS Social Media Assistant CARINYA SHARPLES Workshop Facilitator
Editor’s note Kumusta, Bonjou, Halò, Dia Duit, Sata srī akāla. These are some of the ways our team can say “hello”, in the languages spoken in the countries we’re from, the places we live in or the lands of our ancestors. English unites us all to each other, and to you, but these other languages are what connects us to roots near and far. They are part of what reminds us of our sometimes difficult history, of the subtle ways in which colonisation works, of erasure. But above all, they are what can link us to our loved ones, to those who came before us and after us, to grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, strangers, in nations we might not always feel that we belong. In these pages, you will find several pieces that employ language to draw a connection between the creators and their stories, between where they are now and where they come from. You will find work in Māori, in Spanish, Welsh, Chinese, Farsi. You will find work that questions, directly or otherwise, the English language and the way we use it. You will be taken by the hand and led down a linguistic road you might never have encountered otherwise. We hope you get lost there, even if momentarily, and that you enjoy the journey. To assist you with your reading, you will find a lexicon at the end of this magazine. It lists and translates most of the non-English words you will encounter in this issue, but we wanted to ensure it would not interfere with your perusing, so please refer to it as and when you feel the need to. Happy reading, The Middleground team
HALF A LETTER Sumaya Kassim
OSMOSIS Jo Hamya
SELF-PORTRAIT IN ST. LOUIS Sydney Daniels Garrett
MY MOTHER’S WHITE DAUGHTER Ceilidh Ashcroft
PORTRAIT OF THE GOLDEN GIRL Jalinka Gressman
69% Jonathon Long
I’M NIGGA Damien Belliveau
LONGING Peri Law
MA Ruth De Cerff
SEGUNDA Graitchell Gutierrez
YOU CAN’T SAY THAT Molly Murakami
TŪRANGAWAEWAE Athena Dennis
#DATINGWHILEBROWN Nasim Asl
I BELONG DEEPLY TO MYSELF Alessia Camoirano Bruges
Half a Letter SUMAYA KASSIM
Mixing families is a delicate business. Our father’s hands are not delicate. When he married your mother, I was fourteen. Nothing could have prepared me for her exactness. She is from Syria. She likes parties and guests and romance. She has expectations. The house can’t just be clean; it has to be spotless. She keeps organised photo albums. When you grow up you will know exactly who your aunts and uncles and cousins are. You will know Syria through her beyond the bombs and images of a war torn country. My mother is from Yemen. She hates guests. She hangs up objects on the wall: dresses, pictures of roses covered in her notes, a necklace. She cuts up photographs. Only the heads of the people she likes survive. I inherited my mother’s isolation and her desire to write, except I don’t burn everything. And I would never read my daughter’s diary. I take a can from out of a cupboard. Preparing a meal for one is a historically unprecedented phenomenon. If our family were a nation its policy would be isolationist. A quarter of a century ago I was the age you were when I last saw you, which is when our father placed a knife on the table between us and told me he’d cut the westerner right out of me. * Our father loves to tell us: indeed they (women) plot a mighty plot. It is less than half of an ayah. * comparison is the thief of joy. half sister is a question: which is the better half? sayid qutb was at the lawns picket fences your mother loved your blue eyes and blonde hair she was when your eyes your hair darkened as a toddler you told me my hair was too dark and dirty the exact phrase was ‘not sweet’ he ate honey whipped cream burnt pitta I drew butterflies and flowers and you coloured them in he slid a butter knife between a walnut’s hard lips splitting it when a nation is at war with itself who is the enemy when the war started your mother cried and you held her she was the one who left she guilt tipped tongue liked that I read she hoped you would read my father said you weren’t very bright he’d had enough of one bright daughter I was the one no I was the one no I was the one who loved you I was the first person to hold you every month I bled he told me it was as if I’d lost 1
a child he handed you to me said it was beautiful said I was old enough to have my own I stole you I stole my mother’s photo a child holding a child she is holding her baba why is the child with her hip jutted out always a girl why must she bear her hips have never why do you love a sister holding her sister beautiful he says it’s beautiful he says why can’t I be what is it in me that the westerner or the woman why can’t I be * Our father loves to tell us: a yemeni woman obeys her husband out of duty, a shaami woman obeys out of love. * Migration is translation. Your arabic will be stronger than mine. You will cook shaami food dolma, fattoush, baba ghanoush, lahm bi a’ajeen, and I burn rice. You will be the one who stayed and I will be the one who left and all I can do is show you Goya’s painting, Cronus eating his own children in terror, as explanation. But I half close my eyes and raise cupped hands to the moon: you will not marry until you are ready you will not you will not I am breathing into you a prayer from on high as you lie in his belly to remember: I am the first person to hold you. You turned your head to suckle my dry breast. I made a promise and so did you. You promised to resist. * there are many ways to bury your daughters I am separating grains from a vast steel pan without a cousin or sister beside me. my palms itch. the stones are indistinguishable from the grain. how hard I tried to get something that should have been a given. I count them how hard I tried I am beside how hard I * Our father loves to tell us: it is men who are لا ىَلَع َنوُماَّوَق. It is less than a quarter of an ayah. * he wanted women who arabic. he wanted his children to know the of our deen. he wanted women who these people shame us remember our golden this is why people must children who arabic. children who are soldiers men shaded tents men dancing eyes women serving serving coffee dusk men oud sincerity sincerity poetry * People react differently to the past. People react differently to survival. I understood that when I watched our mothers. Recently my mother told me: I tried my best, which I take as an apology.
* I stand in the kitchen can opener in hand, dazed. I am the product of a woman who did not want any more children after the coveted son. I think: all I wanted was to be accepted and loved. He knew that. I have learned what it means to grieve the living. I was too young when I learned that love can mean letting go. But look, Most days I am not at war. I watch the moon, mother to us all, cool and dispassionate even as she rises. I am unresistant deliciously unresilient unrestrained in my gentleness a thing I cultivate because we were flowers that grew in hostile soil. I cook for myself, I write for myself. I make monkish fare because complexity still tires me. I live simply so I have the energy to write nuance. I spend my days writing myself out of the cavernous silence out of black and white thinking using black and white tools thinking making pathways for us them us them us them us them us east west east west east westâ€Ś I refuse it all. I am unlearning every day. I am learning to love myself. I am learning that this solitude is self-imposed and that it is safe to love. I am learning to be delicate with myself.
Self-Portrait in St. Louis SYDNEY DANIELS GARRETT
after “Gloria Woven” by Michael Bauermeister
i try—to tell myself i’m like a basket, woven by my ancestors, each piece strengthening the whole so i am art and function— the best of both worlds. i am a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle each fragment sourced from different land. i try—knowing that something should be greater than the sum of its parts but am left empty -handed.
Portrait of the Golden Girl JALINKA GRESSMAN
I’m Nigga DAMIEN BELLIVEAU
March, 1990. The fog was wet, thick, and everywhere. The dirt field was riddled with gopher holes. We were crouching in a huddle. Terry was quarterback, and between his dark brown hands he held the pebbled leather football. Jheri curl activator dripped across his broad shoulders as he spoke to us. His braces gave him a soft lisp, but even that couldn’t hurt his cool. “Dee,” Terry said, “you want the ball this time?” “Nuh-uh,” I said, shaking my head. Terry sucked his teeth. He was the type of dude that made an effort to include people, even shy kids like me. Terry was a leader: confident, tall, outgoing and charismatic. He was everything I wasn’t. And he was black, real black. James Brown and Miles Davis black. Black-Is-Beautiful black. African-ancestors-goingall-the-way-back black. “Dee, listen,” Terry said, “you gonna be ready when I throw to you?” I was scared to say No, but terrified to say Yeah. “Come on, Dee,” Terry reassured me, “it ain’t nothing. I’m just gonna fake one direction then hand the ball off to you.” 6
Terry delivered a final slap to my back and then nodded at everyone else in the huddle. He clapped his hands and we broke into formation. “Hut! Hut! Hike!” Terry stuffed the ball into my chest. I ran. I was sprinting down the field, slipping people’s outstretched hands, taking step after confident step. For the very first time, the plastic flags on my hips were whipping and popping like everyone else’s. I noticed some Filipino dude gaining on me. He reached for one of my flags. I batted his hand away. I knew this was illegal, but I risked it anyway. The kid threw his hands up in protest and Coach DiMaggio blew his whistle. Everyone on the field slowed to a trot. “I had his flag,” the kid moaned. “He blocked my hand.” DiMaggio approached, his head nodding like, Yeah, I know. “Belliveau,” DiMaggio shouted, “you can’t block someone’s hands like that. The hell’s wrong with you?” Coach reached for the ball and I handed it to him. I dropped my head, disappointed in myself. DiMaggio fell in line beside me as we walked back a few yards. He
patted me on the back. “Good run,” he said, and set the ball on the ground. “Let’s take it from here. First down!” Returning to the huddle, Terry offered his fist for a dap. “Damn, Dee, you did alright, boy. What was you worried about?” I shrugged and smiled, and just like that I was Roger Craig. “Well, all right, y’all,” Terry said. “We gonna give it to Dee right here again. Just block his little ass as he run it.” Terry clapped and we fanned out. The Filipino kid lined up directly across from me. He was eyeballing me, trying to be intimidating, but I was Roger Craig and this fool couldn’t fade me. “What?” the Filipino kid said. “You think you cool now?” “Shut up,” I mumbled. The kid stood up, cocked his head, and repeated my words back to me. “Shut up?” Damn. I’d been the hero for less than a minute and already someone was trying to step. I started to feel the familiar pull of the coward inside of me. The pride and confidence that had been coursing through my body started to turn, and the poisonous rush of fight-or-flight adrenaline made the fluids inside my head pound. “What is you, anyway?” the Filipino kid asked. “Albino?” I didn’t know what “albino” meant, but I could tell that he was trying to clown on my ethnicity, my ambiguous background, my complete lack of Terry-like blackness. I had already done a lot to be blacker – sagging my Dickies, rocking my oversized windbreaker confidently, wearing beanies and pulling them low on my head – but the one thing I couldn’t change was my half-black skin. I might’ve walked around in the gangsta rap uniform and kicked it with Ray and them fools from Clarinada, but to anyone who looked at me, my light skin and European features were confusing. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make the leap from what they saw to what I showed them. I raised my eyes, looking the Filipino kid up and down. Then, loud enough for everyone to hear, I declared, “I’m nigga!” N.W.A gave birth to the word nigga: five letters
related to but independent from its ancestor, nigger. Over the past several months at Westmoor, I’d grown accustomed to hearing nigga out the mouths of black kids all day, every day. But not only black kids. Samoans and Latinos and Filipinos, and even white kids who were down said nigga all the time. Not only to the black kids, but to each other too. If you were down, if you were hard, no one even tripped off you saying nigga. Nigga was no different than saying dude, or blood, or cuz, or homie. It was the same as those words, but more. Nigga was dynamic. It could do anything. Nigga could be a threat: “Nigga, what?” Nigga could be an embrace: “My nigga!” Nigga could be imploring: “Nigga, please.” Nigga could be disappointed: “Damn, nigga.” And if you changed the inflection on any of those, nigga was funny. Nigga was flexible and fluid and adaptable. It could do whatever you needed it to do. Nigga accompanied degrees of authenticity and quality, such as Real niggas and Fake niggas; Hard or Soft niggas; Smart niggas and Dumb niggas and Rich niggas and Broke niggas. Nigga could be deployed in all kinds of ways, in seemingly endless situations. I might’ve been ignorant of most of the uses, but one thing I knew for sure was that nigga and nigger were different and should never be confused with each other. As far as I could tell, nigga was never an insult. Nigga was never demeaning. Nigga was never intentionally hurtful or terrorizing. Nigga was never a demonstration of power. Nigger was all of these things. So, there I was, before a dozen classmates, claiming what I believed to be my rightful blackness: “I’m nigga,” I said proudly. This was not the first time I’d said the word. I’d been rapping along to Ice Cube and Eazy-E for a long time. At home, alone in my bedroom, I’d tried the word out plenty. But this was the first time I’d said it out loud, at school, in front of kids I did and didn’t know. As soon as it came out of my mouth, I felt tough. 7
The chuckles and snickers bubbled up slowly. Heads swiveled left and right, kids exchanged confused looks, hesitant smiles spread across faces. The tension was thick, heavy like the fog. The Filipino kid, my antagonist, started laughing, a big laugh, a wide-mouthed laugh, a laugh that was equal parts amusement and ridicule. With this laugh he was trying to punk me even more. Finally, I stood to face him. Other kids began to react with Oohs and Aahs, hoping for that one thing that every high school kid is dying to see: a fight. “Hey, hey, hey,” Coach DiMaggio called out. “Enough grab-assing!” “Chill, Dee,” Terry said. “Don’t even trip, homie. Don’t even trip.” Under DiMaggio’s bloodshot eyes, we relaxed. The game continued. We ran a few more plays, but Terry didn’t give me the ball. Coach DiMaggio didn’t offer any more encouraging words. No one did. Everyone looked at me differently, looked at me sideways. Then the bell rang. I walked off the field, towards the locker room, head down. My classmates bumped past me, but the water in my eyes didn’t fall. Instead, a frustrated heat settled in my chest. As awkward as my attempt at self-defense may have been, for the first time, I’d stood up for myself. I held onto that sliver of pride. On the way to the bus stop after school, I told Ray what happened. As my only friend and confidant, I hoped he’d understand. “You said, ‘I’m nigga’?” I nodded, embarrassed. But also confused, like, why didn’t that work? “You dumb, blood,” Ray said. He chuckled, but didn’t follow through with his usual big, loud laugh. I could see that he actually felt bad for me. “What was you trying to say? ‘I’m nigga’? The fuck that mean?” “I don’t know,” I admitted. “Like, I’m black.” Ray shook his head. Then he threw a quick fist hoping to catch me slipping. I dodged the chin-check 8
easily. Ray’s eyes went wide and he giggled, impressed. “You silly, Dee,” Ray said. “Don’t be saying stuff when you don’t know what the fuck it is that you tryin’ to say. All right?” I kept my eyes pinned to the sidewalk, but I nodded and said, “Yeah.” Ray threw another jab. He caught my chin and my head rattled. “And keep your head up, blood, damn. I can’t be walking around with no crying ass nigga!” At his own joke, Ray laughed for real and lunged a few steps ahead of me. I put my fists up, ready to slap box, and Ray sprinted down the block, his laughter skipping across the air. His backpack bounced wildly as he looked over his shoulder at me, waiting for me to chase him. I smiled and rubbed my chin, walking on at my own pace. I knew that I’d catch up to him. Eventually.
RUTH DE CERFF
Your love was angry It shouted at bare feet and wet hair For tempting sickness Scrubbed skin pink All the way to godliness
Brown and sweet Like the skin you gave us It swayed with your dress and Wobbled with your pen Your love ran
It pointed between legs And said: Don’t let nobody touch you And we nodded I’ll kill them you said And we believed you Feeling safe In your scold
Long and soft Like your silky, purple veins
Your love was alive
Daring the world To break it on your watch
It ran past polite hesitation And dived right inside of me And there it stubbornly lives Guarding my heart
It cracked and popped in the oil As you cooked and sang The Last Time I Saw Paris (you never went, and I’m sorry) It whirlpooled in your afternoon tea
You Canâ€™t Say That MOLLY MURAKAMI 10
#DatingWhileBrown NASIM ASL
Right swipe, chap, left, rast / yek unread message glares red in a corner of the screen / my thumb flicks, lazy, taps the beacon / alarm emojis ring in my head / a strange man said: *sells himself to ethnically ambiguous girl* ‘I once ate bombay mix at a Nisa’s’ It’s 1:04pm / maybe he has ghazā on the brain, racked his mind to try and find the ingredients / of my DNA / I blink / blink / blink / the scorpion wrapped around my heart stings my left chesm / tail thrashing against my skull in rage / breathe in, out / beh, khārej / I unleash my hands, let my fingers paint pixel symphonies / to explain away the brown / dō bloodlines wrap around the caduceus of my body / these veins are not mârha at war / I am Simurgh / copper feathers streaming from my scalp / I want to tell him he has picked the wrong region / that my people are herby / I stew / we stew / stew pots of sabzee / I taste my heritage with an English tongue / I try to tell him I have not visited a Nisa since I ran out of mixer / at a mehmooni in an old friend’s flat / I think I bought some Walker’s Sensations / along with own-brand lemonade / I definitely paid in pounds / I don’t think they accept the rials that I don’t know how to count / I want to tell him I hung the flag of Iran above my hi-fi when I was 12 / beside my Mizz magazine Nick Jonas shrine / that efsand burned in my yellow bedroom / smoke curling into waves / the voice of John Denver blasting from my speakers / vibrations shaking the green white red / sabz ghermez sefeed / that this album is my baba’s favourite / and in our house it is my mam’s Geordie dastam that makes the best chayee / I type / there is nothing ambiguous / about my dual existence / delete the message / then remove him from my zendegi
I Belong Deeply To Myself ALESSIA CAMOIRANO BRUGES 14
Osmosis JO HAMYA
After the party, I felt very cool in my long, slim black dress, and through the French doors, I could see the morning’s overcast grey. August. Six AM. The British Isles. I did not know what to do with myself after all the guests had left but I was still cresting on the adrenaline the party had induced, and so I started observing little things about the house, which I had only been in for a few days. On one side of the doors, a flimsy netted fence gave a run of grass the distinction of a garden. Then, further down past the net, the grass tapered out and gave way to pebbles and a rocky beach. At that hour of the morning, the sea rose in particles and came up to the house as fog. On the other side of the doors were Gia and Inez, arguing with their brother. I could distinguish them by the varying lengths of their fine blonde hair. Gia’s husband had a broom in his hand and he was cleaning. He’d said he didn’t like to wake up to mess. We were in an open plan kitchen. I wanted to go to bed, but
to get to the guest room, I would have had to go past Inez. She was scowling; given to increasing fits of bad temper over our stay, it was entirely possible to imagine her taking my brushing past as either an affront or a desire to join the fight. I gave up the idea of sleep. I watched Gia’s husband finish sweeping and begin loading the dishwasher with dirty cups and plates. I watched his black hands dipping in and out of piles of white crockery in measured breaststroke. For lack of sleep, I made coffee. I stood against the countertop, holding it until Gia’s husband said, Go outside. He was looking at his wife. I thought he was addressing her, until he went on, She likes to have an argument at the end of the night. Go ahead. I’ll mop the floor while they finish and you can come back in when everything’s done. He sent me out very calmly while Gia, a couple of meters behind him said, I don’t understand how you can be such an idiot about it, to her brother and started crying. The garden was full of things it was impractical to 15
grow on the coast. Gia and Inez kept tomatoes, which flourished in huge blue ceramic pots. Long, fragrant vines held up by wooden sticks towered around me. On the fringes by the netted fence, Inez had bushes of pink roses which, in turns, shot up out of the ground agitatedly, or else drooped at the cold, oversaturated air. The allure of the garden as a whole was that it was overgrown, rambling and near-constantly wet – even in the finest of British summers, the sea found its way to it. There were droplets of water everywhere, and because this was a holiday house, such displeasures became charming. I held my coffee in my hand. I could hear Duke Ellington playing from the speakers, La Plus Belle Africaine live at the Cote d’Azure. Amid the plants, in my cool, black, party dress, and in the cool morning air, I felt right. Then I heard Inez bang her fist on the table. This was because her brother had said, G, I don’t know why you’re crying like you’re up for best actress at the Academy Awards. You say I can’t possibly understand, but you’re exactly the same as me: we grew up in the same house, we have the same features, we experience the same privilege. To which Inez replied, Take Jews or Poles instead. My neighbours. They’re white, and people tell them to go back to their own country all the time. This isn’t about race. This is about bigotry. But Gia cut her off, shouting, No. No, that’s wrong, too. It is about race. I’m not saying I understand what it’s like. I’m saying the premise of your argument is wrong because we, as white people, can’t. For example, I read online— By the French doors, there was a red plastic basin Gia’s husband used to collect tomatoes every morning. We had eaten them for breakfast with a bit of salt and buttered bread. They were not the best things – they were slightly watery with lack of sun – but the ritual of bringing them in from the garden appealed to us all. I put my mug in the basin and tucked the basin under my arm so that I could reach in for my coffee and sip as I went. The tomatoes, I began throwing in as well. I had only heard La Plus Belle Africaine a handful of 16
times before, but I remembered its low piano riffs and mounting drums. I moved to them with pleasure. Those quick, scatty repetitions were laid over a steadier double bass and woodwind arrangement so that the whole thing sounded like a body going through high reeds: heady, insect-filled magniloquence. It was good music to pick tomatoes to. Occasionally, the argument ruined it. When Ellington’s vocal accompaniments guiding the orchestra crescendoed into an ecstatic Aaaaa, the sudden swell of sax at his command was ruined by Inez, shouting, Okay, okay, okay, okay. Wait. She turned the stereo down. I wanted to go back into the room and condemn her for it, but she was saying, G. Shut it. Give him a chance. So, you think we’re overthinking it? I think you’re giving a group of people a complex they might not necessarily have, her brother said. And one which might not even, in some contexts, exist. Why would someone be worried or upset about being in the room with us? Would they constantly interrogate their identity because, what? They’re the only black person in the room? They wouldn’t. They’d have a glass of champagne with us and we’d have a fucking good time together. I intuited rather than saw Gia’s head go into her hands. You’re such an idiot, she said. First of all, I don’t mean this room. I mean higher rooms, where people don’t see themselves represented. If someone is in a room, in an elite kind of room, and they are the only black person in that room, what do you think they’re thinking? I think they’re probably saying to themselves, look how fucking great it is that I’m here when so few others managed. I must be really fucking clever. You just really don’t get it. Of course I get it. You’re treating me like a moron who thinks racism doesn’t exist. Of course it exists. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about your little performance here, and how it might actually be demeaning to the people you’re talking about. People of… other races aren’t just constant balls of turmoil and
pain. Let’s take your friend, the one who’s staying with you. She’s some brilliant artist, isn’t she? You told me she just won a prize.
was nothing else to do but keep picking. I had more coffee, went back to harvesting. If I strained for it, I could still hear the Ellington filtering through.
Yes, Gia said, and then, pertly, she was the only black nominee and the first black woman to ever win it. There was a big ceremony.
The conversation had drowned out the track’s first climax, a point at which the whole orchestra roared a chorus that should have shaken the house to its foundations had Inez not turned it down. But, I was glad to remember, the astonishing thing about it was how seamlessly this transmuted into a string section that felt more akin to Bach’s cello suites on speed than standard jazz. I tuned back in time to hear the tremolos before the chorus roared again: relaxed, mellowing out into an altogether bouncier, more elongated rhythm. I tried to hum to it, but it was hard to do. The piece relied on the constant variation and exploration of the same core theme. Even having heard it a few times before, I could not predict where it would go. I heard, Well, you should talk to her, ask her, because she’ll tell you: to be the only black person in any room is fucking terrible, and then I checked to see whether or not the basin was full. I heard, If it’s so bad, why would she stay?, and, Because she wants to change the world. I decided that I had not picked enough tomatoes for a satisfactory breakfast. This time, I wanted a salad of them, quartered and tossed lightly in salt. It did not take long to find several more, and upon rising from picking, the rose bushes fell into my view. In spite of the damp and the cold, a few roses had managed to grow into something beautiful. I tried to break a couple of stems with my fingers and cut myself on a thorn, crumpled the petals of another bloom. I went back indoors.
Okay, so she’s a brilliant young, black painter who just won an award. Do you really think she was crying about there being no other black people present? At this party being held, literally for the purpose of celebrating her? No, she was enjoying herself. She wasn’t thinking on the level of race, because she doesn’t have to! It’s not a concern for her! I wondered whether they thought the mere air passing through the open doors, marking the boundary between kitchen and garden, changed when it hit the frame, allowing the inside of the house to be soundproofed against the outside. I peered around the vines. I wanted to see what Gia’s husband was doing, but it was the same as before: he was mopping the floor. In any case, it wasn’t true. I was a sculptor, not a painter. The room had contained other people of colour, beyond which, I was mixed-race. Something about the tone with which the discussion collapsed the nuances and degrees of experience between me and the generalities of the term ‘black’ caught me by surprise. I looked at my brown arms in the pale light. I began to feel embarrassed. Suddenly, I thought the low cut, simple line of what I was wearing, along with the bun I had spent half an hour methodically twisting and pinning until it seemed as though I had simply flung it up, looked like a costume. I stopped picking tomatoes. I had felt so good in my dress. I heard Inez start to speak – Okay but have you bothered to think why it might be that in spite of how prodigious she is, she is the only one of her kind in a room like that? – but I was sad and nostalgic for thirty seconds ago, a time when I had looked good in my dress and the smell of the tomatoes in the morning air was its own form of pleasure. There
Gia and Inez fell silent immediately; their brother smiled widely and said, Hey, how’s it going? Good, I said. I was just looking for some secateurs. He started to say he didn’t know where they were, but from behind me I heard, They’re in the cupboard under the sink, and turned at the sound. Gia’s husband stood by the fridge, depositing containers of leftover food wherever they fit inside. I looked hard at his face, but his expression 17
was neutral. I tried to send him a message that said, Are you okay?, with my eyes, but if we were telepathic the connection was faulty. Instead, I retrieved the shears and said, Great. I thought I’d cut some roses for the table. Gia’s wet little face said, That’s so thoughtful, thank you, with excessive tenderness. I waved the secateurs in the air and as an afterthought added, Nice Ellington track, by the way. Yes, isn’t it? Inez said at once, and sprang to turn the volume on the stereo up. Divine. I smiled and left for the garden. I cut a dozen flowers and spread them out on the grass to clip the thorns and excess leaves. Then I gathered them loosely in my hand. I was getting cold but nothing in me wanted to go back into the kitchen, so I put the bouquet in the basin, inside the empty coffee mug anchored by fruit, and left it all in the garden. I walked the short length down to the coast. The last of the Ellington, already fainter in its finishing lines, dimmed as I went out. And because the last of what I could hear was, Look, I know you’re so good-hearted that you can’t conceive of other people discriminating based on skin colour when hiring, but trust me. You know it’s true of women because you saw how difficult a time I had of it, so let’s try to take that experience and put it one step further, I wanted to think of the sound of the sea as respite. It didn’t work that way. I was freezing and the coast was ugly. No matter how far at bay I kept, the direction of the breeze meant I was incessantly hit with spray. But the distance from the house gave me time to adjust the hem of my dress, and wash the mud from my knees in the cold water. I smoothed my baby hairs and touched my bun to make sure it was still pinned up. I hooked my fingers under my eyes and dragged them in one direction to wipe away any fallen mascara, and then bit my lips hard until they went swollen and turned a little red. Okay, I said to myself. Okay. And walked back to the house.
I collected the basin and the roses along the way. In the kitchen, the countertops gleamed. Oh hello, Inez said brightly, and Gia hugged me, murmuring, Can I get you anything before we go up to bed? I assured her I was okay. Inez arranged the flowers. Over her shoulder, her brother gave me a smile and a nod. After they retreated, Gia’s husband wiped his hands with a dishcloth and locked the French doors behind me. I’m done, he said, and nodded at the tomatoes. Nice work with those. I offered him the basin, but he shook his head. Kitchen’s clean, he said. All yours. I’m going to bed. When he left, I stood holding the basin for a few minutes, with the sun starting to come up over the rose bushes and the netted fence. Weak light trickled in. A beat. I found a knife, a wooden board. I cut the tomatoes and put some salt on them. I ate them.
my mother’s white daughter CEILIDH ASHCROFT
I keep catching my mother looking for reflections, glimpses of ghosts in me. My face is a canvas she can’t paint herself into. But maybe my jawline is like po-po’s. Maybe my ears. What is it like to give birth to a baby eight months of hell, a birth like a trauma who looks less like you than a stranger. My hands are hers before the wear of four children, before the years stripped the softness. Her tongue keeps her fear in the shape of a question. She asks if I get treated Chinese. Do I feel different. Do people know. the first boy i let hold me used the term yellow fever When I say yes, there’s pain wrought with joy. In the glass of the mirror, my mother eludes me, a child after her father, but soaked in her mother’s perfume. My feet still trip over the same thresholds. There are no halves in me, no constant divisions, for years i worried there was nothing at all Just my own hands holding space for the guilt.
JONATHON WOOD 20
Longing PERI LAW 22
Segunda GRAITCHELL GUTIERREZ
Every morning I wake up thankful, for my Abuela’s bendicíones.
And when the meal is cooked, we all gather around the old wooden table, hands clasped in prayer.
How she covers me in love, despite the 2,000 miles of land and sea that keep us apart.
Que dios le bendiga esta comdida, The woman who prepared it, Who keeps our familia together, Amen.
I think back to heavy Panamanian air, thick with the scent of hot oil and fritura. Abuela’s thin fingers converting shapeless mounds of corn into tortillas and bollos. La hamaca swaying in the breeze, outside her small yellow house, The same color as maíz. Once a home for twelve children, now holds her thirty nietos, all of us blanketed in her care Abuela tells us stories of our parents, how although they were never rich, Dios simpre nos ah dado.
Tūrangawaewae n: Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet) (from Māori) ATHENA DENNIS
Burning bracken wafts over the coastline and swirls out to sea. The restless spirits of my tupuna return to Hawaiki. Sometimes the beach feels like the dreams of a long line of ancestors met a quiet death here. Sometimes the beach feels like hope and freedom. This beach belongs to anyone who sees it and claims it. Whether in a 4WD, a bicycle, or an old fashioned galleon. This is where a skipper’s boy named Young Nick announced that the Endeavour had come across land to Captain Cook in 1769. The rest is history. The inlet was named Young Nick’s Head. A lot of blood was spilled here. The mingling of blood for the first time of peoples from the Pacific region and the British Isles. Their iron-clad crimson fluids joined when people lay on their backs in between scratchy linens – by force and by choice. This restless union that was irreversibly forged in the spilling of rivers of blood, on the mountains, valleys and 26
quiet rivers of Aotearoa. It cascaded down into the soil and awoke a terrible anger from the earth mother that still trembles in our hearts today. But it’s not good or polite to talk about blood. It’s often said that when the pakeha first arrived in Aotearoa, they quivered in fear when they heard the first haka on the beach done by my tipuna. The pebbles on the beach are as smooth and sea-worn as a pounamu inlaid with swirling clouds, or as a young woman’s face. And yet, paradoxically, the stones on the beach are ancient. Just like me. I could be very young. I could be very old. Sometimes it’s so hard to tell. There is a tapestry of my history curling along in the wind, in a place my ancestors called Tūranganui-a-Kiwa. There are weatherboard houses there that stubbornly affix to the ground, even as they are buffeted by cold easterlies and tropical northern winds. Anything can stay rooted to the ground when it’s patched over with a
loving hug, smiles, some kai and a warm place to sleep. Below the shoreline, the tail of a taniwha emerges like a sharp knife of fire. Its eyes glitter like fierce murderous diamonds, its mouth contorts into a dangerous smirk. If only I could hang onto its tail and speedily be delivered across the oceans to the other place. The place where home lies. Scotland. Australia. New Zealand. Poland. Japan. Who can tell where?
He reo tō te manu, he reo tō te rakau, he reo tō te ika Āe rā, he reo to tō te Pakeha, he reo to te Hainamana otiia He reo anō hoki tō te Māori A bird has a language, a tree has a language, a fish has a language. Yes Pakeha have their languages, the Chinese have their languages And the Māori have their own language. Which language and culture I belong to was a point of pain and confusion for me as a child. I straddle two
worlds with the colour of my skin, my wild hair, my eyes and my warrior-like, athletic body. And yet, and yet – as an adult, I realised that these points of difference are not actually shadows, they are filled with a kaleidoscope of colours. Somehow the shared legacy of spilled blood, pain and disempowerment of my people can be transformed. With age and wisdom, I realise that I am not just one person on a single arc of a lifetime. No, I am another knot tied within a long flax rope that transcends time. A delicate but strong rope that holds my people together. The stories I weave into the flax are my own reframing of the world. Yes, there is a world of chaos and terror swirling on the winds outside. Yet I can shutter the windows inside of me to the white noise and listen to the faint whisper of an unfurling koru within my heart. I hear a message and I bring it to you all now: J‘ ust hang on. All will be fine.’
Lexicon From “Tūrangawaewae” BY ATHENA DENNIS Language: Māori tupuna ancestors pakeha white people kai food taniwha Māori sea monster
From “my mother’s white daughter” BY CEILIDH ASHCROFT Language: Chinese po po mother
From “#DatingWhileBrown” From “Longing” BY PERI LAW Languages: Welsh and Chinese hiraeth nostalgia for a home that never existed (huái jiù) nostalgia
BY GRAITCHELL GUTIERREZ Language: Spanish bendicíones blessings fritura frying bollos buns maíz corn nietos grandchildren Dios simpre nos ah dado God has always provided Que dios le bendiga esta comdida, familia God bless this meal, family
BY NASIM REBECCA ASL Language: Farsi
chap left rast right yek one ghazā food chesm eye beh in khārej out dō two mârha snakes Sabzee green vegetables mehmooni party efsand seeds burned to ward off harm sabz green ghermez red sefeed white baba Dad dastam hands chayee tea zendegi life
From “Half a Letter” BY SUMAYA KASSIM Language: Arabic Guardians of Women
Contributors Ceilidh Ashcroft is a 23-year-old writer of mixed Chinese-European heritage, currently living in Vancouver, Canada. She is a recent graduate, having obtained her BA in Psychology from Simon Fraser University with a focus on abnormal psychology. Outside of writing poetry, she spends most of her time coding interactive fiction and creating digital art. Her interactive work can be found at: ha1fie.itch.io Nasim Rebecca Asl is a Geordie-Persian poet and journalist who lives and works in Glasgow. Her poetry has appeared in Skin Deep, Young Poet’s Network and Modern Poetry in Translation, as well as Tapsalteerie’s anthology pamphlet ‘Ceremony’. In 2018 she was longlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poets’ Prize. Her poem ‘Nemidoonam’ featured in the inaugural Fringe of Colour Films poetry series Sorry I Was On Mute. Nasim is a member of the Scottish BAME Writers Network, the 2020 Traverse Theatre Young Writers programme and she is an alumna of The Writing Squad. Damien Belliveau A 2020 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow, Damien Belliveau is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, and a veteran of the United States Army. He has spent over a decade telling stories in the world of reality television as an editor, producer, and director. The founder of The PartBlack Project, a Q&A photography series documenting ethnically mixed people like himself, Damien is preparing to take his first book to market, an autofiction project entitled, hella. Alessia Camoirano Bruges is an Italian-Colombian artist based in London. She has lived in many different places, each one inspiring her deeply, and graduated from the University of the Arts London where she 30
studied Film and TV, and learned how colours impact on our emotions and moods. She then found fluid art, which she related to deeply. She combines colours, fluidity and emotional intensity into her art practice, and sees each artwork as a cathartic experience in which she is able to connect to her inner child and let go of anything that holds her back by “simply” being present. Each artwork is presented with lyrics and a storyline written by the artist. Ruth De Cerff is a South African American writer currently based in Johannesburg. Her poetry and prose focus mainly on themes of womanhood, mixed race identity, home and belonging. She has been previously published in Glamour SA and FGRLS and is passionate about all things fiction, fashion and food. Athena Dennis Content Catnip is an Australian born Māori writer and videographer of Ngāti Porou, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Kahungunu, Scottish, Irish and Swedish descent. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand with her partner. She has a restless and adventurous soul and therefore has lived in Germany, Scotland and Australia and been to many countries. She is always curious about what lies over the next mountain ridge, around the next beach cove and inside of the next busy market stall. She writes about books, quirky history, creativity and much more on her blog. Sydney Daniels Garrett is a poet and essayist from Ferguson, Missouri. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis where she served as managing editor of Natural Bridge—A Journal of Contemporary Literature. Sydney lives with her husband, their sons, and many houseplants.
Jalinka Gressmann is a visual artist based in Amsterdam, with a background in commercial creative studies (Cibap, Zwolle 1996), 3D-design and Sculpture (HKU, Utrecht 1998). She graduated with a degree in Fine Art â€“ Intermedia in 2004 at the University of the Arts Utrecht. Gressmannâ€™s art is a spontaneous manifestation of her visions, perpetually developing in experimental and playful ways. The results can be seen in surreal collage, (self) portrait collages, mixed-media photography, drawings, assemblages and in diverse, interactive, creative workshops for all ages. She exhibits regularly in galleries and cultural places and was Artist in Residence in Portugal (Moinhos do DĂŁo, 2015) and Brazil (Pachamama Atelier, 2017-2018).
the power of storytelling. She is working on a creative non-fiction project on autoimmunity as well as her first novel. She has Yemeni, Iraqi and English heritage.
Graitchell Gutierrez (they/them) is an Afro-Latinx poet and creative hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Their poems primarily center around the duality of being both black and latinx, their immigrant parents, as well as being raised bilingual and their childhood summers being split between Panama and New York. They are currently a senior attending Bradley University, pursuing a degree in Creative Writing and Sustainability, allowing them to delve deeper into their passion for environmental work and writing.
Molly Murakami is a cartoonist, illustrator, and writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. She received a BA in Studio Art from St. Olaf College before pursuing her MFA in Visual Studies through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Her work often centers closely on themes of family, shared histories, thought processes, and social justice.
Jo Hamya is a writer and freelance journalist. Her first novel, Three Rooms, will be published July 2021 by Jonathan Cape in the UK, and August 2021 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US. She lives in London.
Peri Law is a visual artist and curator currently based in North Carolina. She is inspired by her experiences as a young Chinese-Vietnamese-English woman living as a first generation American in the South. Her work uses personal, cultural, and multigenerational memories and trauma to explore the idea of a visual atmosphere as a liminal space. Her work is her attempt at understanding her identity, through a search for home and a sense of belonging, and an attempt at channeling her fervent emotions towards her surrounding environment and future.
Jonathon Wood Arkansas-based photographer Teddy, also known as Jonathon Wood, is a member of the Choctaw Nation artistic community. Teddy draws inspiration from his heritage to create digital art focusing on capturing an overlooked story of the natural beauty the South has to offer.
Sumaya Kassim is a writer, curator and critic based in Birmingham, UK. She writes fiction and critical essays on art and culture and speaks regularly at universities, art galleries and museums about decolonising histories and 31
Middleground Magazine | 2020 firstname.lastname@example.org