Hot Desk Extract: From Below

As part of the Wheeler Centre's Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Leah Jing McIntosh worked on a collection of essays, From Below, which consider life as a 'mixed-race' person in the 21st Century

The excerpt below forms a part of the collection, which examines the impossibility of a cohesive self in the age of the internet, while tearing at concepts of death, family, gender and liminality.

Photograph of the Grand Canyon, with a tree stump in the foreground

Image: Scott Limbrick (modified from a photo by John Vetterli, CC-BY-SA 2.0)

on the grand canyon,
and other chasms

the national geographic describes the grand canyon as ‘a chasm 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide.’ a void so grand that 4.5 million people visit it each year. all textures and slopes, earth cradling air. 

scientists still don’t really know how it formed. -- i try to find out and end up watching a youtube geologist in khakis and a smokey the bear hat contemplating deep time and centuries of erosion. the layers of sediment go a mile deep. he stands at the rim of the canyon and says, you can barely see five percent of this chasm at any given moment.

-- look up the definition of chasm but find it wanting -- collect a list of my own; count for spaces between -- add my body to the list, the first hollow thing I know. my body owned through a language sturdy and unstable; drape me in language and it slips right off.

i am still looking for a phrase that finds me full and whole.

but what phrase can describe this body that isn’t a theory of fractions? -- i am still looking for a phrase that finds me full and whole.

-- finally locate some strange solace in the duality of jesus; at fifteen, i sit in a humid classroom, fan spluttering in the corner, and my religion teacher tells us that jesus is fully human and fully divine. want to ask her if he ever questioned which part was divine, if jesus ever held one hand out to the light -- (to discover he was the light). I want to ask her if he ever questioned which part was human, if he ever felt for it.

instead I’m silent as she tells us about doubting thomas, waiting to feel his weeping wound, hand outstretched. 

i guess when you ask me about race, i too want to shove your hands into my bleeding flesh.

when you ask me what it means to be me in this world i wonder, would you like me to slice off the parts which hurt, hold them up to the light, for you--and as this blood drips down my hands, slides down my arms--i wonder, can you see the red pooling around your feet, soaking into the ground.

in the nineteenth century, the grand canyon wasn’t drawn into many maps. deemed the great unknown, the chasm swallowed cartographers whole. an average of twelve people fall into the grand canyon each year. visiting the void and forgetting it is real. even those who articulate their bodies in a whole and full sense can lose their bearings, sometimes.  

there is a certain pleasure in a texture so expansive you cannot see another thing

 i’m seventeen and we are lying on an emptied beach in november, on one of those bright lucky days. it is B’s birthday and we’re eating fish and chips on the sand and we don’t really notice a group of people down the way until one walks up, wobbly drunk, a mess of blonde hair.

she wants a fight. the world becomes very quiet.

when we realise she will not leave us alone, we start to pack up, trying to leave. shoving sunscreen in bags, pulling shirts on hasty. but she finds a target in my body anyway, says: hey jap bitch what’s your problem.

 i’m not japanese, i reply on reflex, as if this is the issue.

she pauses, look at me hard, says: chink bitch, fuck you--

-- and then i am on the ground. she has punched me, broken glass deep into my arm. her friends finally intervene, pull her off. bleeding, i cycle back to the house. watch my arm drip blood onto bathroom tiles and think of my body anew. 

i turn twenty-five. we visit the grand canyon in the fall. and then, i am peering over the side, scraping my eyes down unforgiving rock.

there is a certain pleasure in a texture so expansive you cannot see another thing-- 

people flowing past us as we stand still at the opening, paying respect to the void.

watching light arcing across red rock.

Portrait of Leah Jing McIntosh

Leah Jing McIntosh is a writer and photographer. In 2016, she founded Liminal magazine, a space for the exploration of the Asian-Australian experience. In 2019, she is launching the Liminal Fiction Prize for Australian Writers of Colour.

Her essays and fiction have appeared in the Saturday Paper, the Lifted Brow, Swampland, and Archer. Recently, she was awarded a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship, and has completed the FCAC Emerging Cultural Leaders program. She is a 2019 Victorian Nominee for Young Australian of the Year. 

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