On Being Asked What You Are

I feel like this piece of writing is conversation three in a series of at least five conversations needed to answer the question “what are you?” However, I’ve decided to write as if everyone has the prior knowledge needed to interact with this piece in a way that makes sense of the Pacific ideology and language scattered throughout. There are three things I have left in a list at the end to help you fill in the blanks.

Within the multiple islands I inhabit, constituting ‘our sea of islands’, also known as the Pacific, there is a belief that I know to be echoed throughout the various aquatic highways that link the lands my forebears navigated. In Te Reo this belief is ‘ka mua, ka muri’ (when translated into other Pacific tongues it’s similar, I promise); in English, it is ‘walking backwards into the future’. I believe this point important to highlight, because as a tamaiti of the Moana this whakatauki plays an integral part in what I am made of.

To walk backwards into the future (and vice versa forward into the past) is to acknowledge that every step I take, I draw from my gafa. Reconciling an indigenous Pacific past with a colonial Western present and thereby existing in a hybridised future. To understand what I am as a fixed, embedded and immersed being in the physical day-to-day world is to understand what tethers me to this plane of existence — which is, as you guessed it, my ‘past’!

To understand me in as ‘authentic’ a way as possible at this point in time is to know that while it is reasonable to believe we are thrown into the world, my ‘past’ , which includes my whakapapa, catches me and roots me within myself. Therefore, I am my ancestors, and by extension the lands they existed in, as the land itself is part of my genealogy as a Pacific person.

My ‘past’ and all that constitutes it — being what I know as well as what is still hidden from me — stabilises the vacuum where I exist. The fact I am here right now and can be present in this moment, sure of myself, is because I am sure of what preceded me. In knowing this I can be properly present in the now, existing as all I was and all I will be.

I am the past
my ancestral vaka,
my grandfather’s matai title,
my mother’s immigrant story
and yesterday’s lunch.

As a child of the Pacific,
I am constantly bringing the past into the future.
Although I am thrown into the world,
I land in the hands of my ancestors
the sea cries with me.

 

Reads:

‘Our Sea of Islands’ – Epeli Hau’ofa
‘Tā , Vā, and Moana: Temporality, Spatiality, and Indigeneity’ – Hufanga ‘Okusitino Māhina
‘Being and Time’ – Martin Heidegger

About the author
Eric Soakai is an Arts/Global Studies student at the University of Auckland. He enjoys country music and long walks on the beach where he can discuss phenomenology, hermeneutics and essentialism. One day he hopes to get 1000+ followers on Insta (@soakaiser) or complete his MA... the Masters in Arts is looking more achievable though.
Gaya_IS_Me
As a child, I was taught that molecules are what we are made of. As I grew up I came to understand that this is the same for everyone, and I sure as hell did not want to be made up of the same hardware material; which only changes in design (fashion). What makes us different are the experiences, or the ‘software’ as I like to call it. Each image drawn has a story, and all these stories intertwined made me who I am today.

 

About the author
Gayatri Adi is a travel and food enthusiast who loves to read fictitious books and write bad poetry. When people ask her what she is passionate about, she says that it is to help people. But she lowkey wants to get rich quick and potentially be a benevolent dictator (still debatable). Other than this, she is very passionate about helping make change and uplift people who have a dream.
Apply Heat

I can’t count the times I’ve breathed in the smell of burning flesh. Cried in the kitchen to the hissing slice of steam. Cooked little patches all over my wrist, tracing up towards the elbow.

I used to work as a baker. Tapped my arm up against the heated steel, flowered open a bleeding gap.

I know I tend to stare. Blankly down, at the proof of my strata. Here’s the layer of fat, here’s the rest that’s pink. Here’s the angry red.

When you get a burn you’re supposed to run it under cold water for ten minutes, immediately. We call this blanching.

I stand in another kitchen as the buzzing quiets down to my partner asking if I’m okay. His face is white (we call this blanching).

How do I tell him I’ve misplaced body? That these angry reds and pinks belong to someone else.

That I would know if I’d burned myself because it would hurt.

About the author
Eliana Gray resides in Ōtepoti. Their style is somewhat elliptical, sometimes confronting, always filtering towards the cracks. Their work can be found in Bones, Critic, Electric Cereal and their two chapbooks which can be found, along with a lot of pictures of the author, on their Instagram (@foxfoxxfox).
the transit of mercury

                                                   |  we
is not a word that comes naturally to me  |  more sputum than breath  |  an emotion of leaking  |  i feel like a single digit  |  straining with a second  |  nothing so romantic  |  as a collective identity  |  collected the different parts of me all strewn  |  like wooden pieces of a broken doll that dropped out the back of a moving van  |  how can i be so embarrassed about what i lack ? i wake up inside the body of a man every morning and fear  |  she loves me for it  |  how can i be  |  a question that doesn’t take to a hook or mark  |  standing in front of a crowd  |  i imagine myself naked and trying in vain to cross my legs  |  to tuck it out of sight  |  but the hair gives away the game  |  i know i come from the great Y in the sky of science  |  my

chromosomes bleeding softly out my ears  |  i try to staunch the flow of it but  |  that just goes against how much the universe has expanded in the time since  |  Tāne parted the great curtain of flesh to get the lights working  |  for the first time  |  and the last  |  where is my mountain  |  what the fuck do i whakapapa to if the chain has already been broken so many times  |  did they eat Cook in the end ? his statues are only just now beginning to leave us  |  say goodbye to the Coromandel my sweet and rotten murderer  |  where you once sat with Green and watched the transit of Mercury  |  the report said you were cast into the sea but being cast into the sea brings to mind images of choppy waves greener than pounamu  |  the rock of your memory being pulled into Tangaroa’s great maw  |  where he consumes every part of you  |  even the powdered wig  |  not what the photos reveal about your memorial  |  just a beached chunk of cement  |  stuck  |  and staying put like an infected tooth with its roots deep  |  your claim is on the roads and you will pull them into the ocean with you out of spite  |  measuring what lengths it will take to leave us naught but dust to feed on  |  grubs bursting with pus  |  tuatara bloated on the harem of weta  |  there is a different version of death everywhere we look  |  the wharenui of settler colonialism is an ancestor with such a hunger for death  |  that it’s still killing to fill the hole inside itself  |  this hole is reflected in me  |  a mirror that throws a negative onto the spaces between my

ribs  |  where i’m pulled inside-out by it  |  turned into a ghost  |  there is something terrifying about seeing through yourself  |  i look in the photo again and it’s not a coastal scene or statue ripped up  |  but a little boy trying to get the devil out  |  the devil being boyhood itself  |  the photo shifts into a liquid glistening all silver and poison  |  my pale fingers disturb and twist around a little girl now holding the holes in the arms of a sweater to keep the cold out  |  gripping pieces of a puzzle  |  Hagrid or a dragon or a scene from a space opera about the connection of all things  |  and war  |  she is scared of getting erections or becoming a savage  |  firing blanks into the night sky  |  she craves to see a transition  |  i haven’t known my own experience  |  i haven’t claimed anything darker than the belly of a whale  |  pressed against the beaches of the east coast  |  i am complicit  |  i am complacent  |  i am a singular abstraction stretching over a sheet of glass  |  my own makeshift plate  |  swab me down to see what kind of colonies grow in the conditions of my

body  |  what kind of colonisation spawns from passive inheritance ? a tongue i never learned to use waggles with a language that was never given to me  |  it’s rolling in r shapes on the floor tumbling back and forth  |  i can taste the fur of the carpet  |  feel the bite of the staples as they try to pin me 2-dimensional  |  the phlegm of Scottish or the hum of the reo  |  a man and a woman incoherent in my shelf  |  a library flooded out  |  parchment drenched to parchment  |  leaves of words blur together trapping me as they dry shut  |

About the author
essa may ranapiri (takatāpui; they/them/theirs) is a poet from Kirikiriroa, Aotearoa / they have words in Mayhem, Poetry NZ, Brief, Starling, THEM and POETRY Magazine / they will write until they're dead