From the river, where the present tries to talk to the

past while she daydreams and the future asks a question

as they all contemplate loss and try to understand

why things are stolen.

Anna Sulan Masing
vol. 3, August/September 2021

I am the product of colonialism
A child of the empire.
I am the now that before made happen:
A mother of milk and honey,
A father of copper and guilt money,
An Other in all places that have been mapped.

When the merchants set sail
On the first boats east,
Riding the beast
Of the East
India Company,

Did they think of me?

In the twilight, when the world felt still and fresh after the afternoon rains, she would dream. Squatting by the river, toes at the edge, arches of her feet curved neatly on a rock. The air calm and the insects beginning to wake — she would dream. Dream of what she would be, dream of what she would do; dream as the hair on her arms slowly moved with the light breeze, hair tucked behind her ears and reaching down her back.

And many men built fences,
Turning down the light on a Dream Time
Of children in a hot southern sun,
Mothers left without defenses.

Did they think of me?

She dreamt of running, of walking, of softly dancing across roads not yet built, but built to carry her; through grasses not yet sown, but waiting to be. Over rivers that bore her family since time began, and would take her too. She dreamt of rhythms, of tastes, of touch from those silhouetted people whose faces had yet to form in her knowing.

With my slanted eyes and antipodean accent
Holding my certificate of citizenship
In all its glory and administrative mistake
A country absent and a capital re-drawn;

With my small feet dancing on the pavement
In the elusive sun, before the showers
To the sound of the buskers
Surrounded by flowers:
Peonies, red, hot like fire
In a market as old as the empire,

Did they think of me?

A rogue afternoon cloud drifts across the darkening sky, to gently weep. Water tickled her left shoulder, ran down her arm, slipped off her fingers and into the earth at her feet and down to the ebb of the river. Wherever she goes, wherever her dreams take her in that twilight glow, she belongs to this the river at her toes. She is of it. Each ripple over a rock, each swirl in its bend is a moment to care for, to hold. However far she is from this river it is in her, and she will return. She sees her children’s children in the dark pools, as she sees her ancestors in the eddies. She would softly call across the river, to her dreams and her future, and will hope to hold this moment forever. 

For weeks after, the militia and

federal cavalry rode across the

countryside, alternatively killing

or gathering any native person they

found and incarcerating the survivors

at the Kings River Indian Reservation

just south of Fresno.

Ghost Acres,” Tom Finger

Did they imagine me?
When they rode the waves, the lands,
Bullets in one hand
Picking up wealth with the other.

You, from a jungle of grey, stone, brick, and mortar;
Her amongst the trees, bare feet on warm wood, fingers through wet grass.
And yet.

My story, your story, hers — bound together from the same beginning,
Changing as time and space move us apart,
Carrying home with us in a handful of water; 
The river that takes us, returns us and moves us,

I’ll tell you my story and you tell me yours,
And we’ll sit and talk of days you don’t remember and I can’t forget.
I’ll tell you how it all used to be and you will ask: How did it change?

Where did we go? And why did we leave?
You ask again and again.

What have we forgotten? I ask.
Will you return, my child, my sister, my friend?

Past, present, and future are entwined in a lot of indigenous cultures, mine included. In my culture — the Iban people of Sarawak, Malaysia — the river is life blood and the connection between family, community, history, and the world. You always leave, because you know how to come back; the river will show you how. 

To see the living and the dead

together in this relation moves

us beyond haunting: after all,

ghost acres were never specters

to the people working the land.

Ghosts are more than reminders

of the past; they are powerful

forces of the present, they

are voices from the future.

To Subsist,” Sherene Seikaly

One of the things that climate change makes me think about is how time and space talk to each other; how one thing happening here affects the future somewhere else. In this piece, the daughters of the past, present, future try to talk to each other, to find a voice to say how they experience the world — playing with form, I explore how we (I) find and create space for our (my) indigenous voice. And always, the river.

When my dad translated an epic Iban poem, he used very descriptive, long titles to explain the sections of the poem. This piece references and honors him.

Anna Sulan Masing is an academic, writer, and poet based in London. HerPhD explored how identity changes when space and location change, and looked at the performance practices of Iban women. Anna Sulan is cofounder of Sourced, a public research project investigating how ingredients are sourced and working to decolonize those systems; Cheese, the magazine of culture; the Voices At The Table podcast; and communication agency A+F Creative.