Between Dreaming and Living

Mununjali poet Ellen van Neerven responds to Montreal-based artist Vikky Alexander's surreal photographic series, currently showing for the first time in Tāmaki Makaurau this week.

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The closest we get to leaving our body behind is in transit. 

This explains the nausea and the panic.

On the way, the days, to the change,

A lack of solid ground under our feet.

Those of us who remain project home in anticipation,

Superimposed between future and past.

The split may have been occurring undetected.

I find comfort in having my body described.

You see, sometimes I don’t travel well,

Grit my teeth and stick to the edges.

Feel the presence,  

Sunken places.

The purge of the page.

I am a vessel.

Between coming and going, 

The body betrays the beach, the water, the neck.

The sensory ocean,

The head is bent back to ease the jaw.

But we don’t see inside the mouth.

Hire a holiday home for the month.

To live on the shore.

Gain distraction from the pattern.

I am on loop.

And a tree. A collar. 

Have we had a good summer?

She is calling. We don’t know her and that’s the point. 

I like stripes, I’m invested in the horizontal desire,

Tastes like something bloomed.

The person is more of a threat than the place,

Taller than the tree, a new view.

Why my last day – shots? It gives the day a certain intention.  

Blue again. Two people with rope and saw.

How do you decide on the colour?

Intimacy is something we crave,

A neighbourhood, but we also slight away from.

Oceanic encounters are parallel to vocation.

There are pearls here, and shark’s teeth,

And maybe that’s a smile.

The house looks old and sombre inside.

The beach holds another disaster.

What makes a place reveal itself?

Something dramatic. Something small and discrete.

The lightning brightened up a secret.

With the storm approaching from the west.

I try to call her, no signal.

Clouds a solid block, like concrete

A flattened sky. A trigger.

The spectrum of visible light.

Burning on the wind. From a hit.

The rain dissolves and it’s quiet for a moment.

Shoreline spotlighted.

Myself as a performance,

And how I am seen.

The scent won’t go away.

My other body.

Arched to count colours in stars.

I empty myself into the rivers,

To be distracted by the lids of eyes always opening,

To glide peacefully like a machine.

I know what was destroyed but not what was left.

I dream I smashed the signal and I smashed it again.

There is a brutality always waiting,

Like rocks, like cliff. Incubation.

It is a skin injury, not so deep.

A crack in speech.

Can we keep up with this pace?

A waldsterben.

I am using up all my feeling.

A closing, like a death. A fine disturbance.

The dream, all mine, until the point of return.

Vikky Alexander, Between Dreaming and Living #4 (1985). Image courtesy of the artist. Vikky Alexander appears courtesy of Downs & Ross, New York.

Ellen van Neerven (b. 1990) is a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction living and working on Turrbal and Yagera land (Brisbane, Australia). They belong to the Mununjali people of the Yugambeh Nation. Their books include Heat and Light (2014), Comfort Food (2016) and Throat (2020), all published by University of Queensland Press. Throat won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the Multicultural NSW Award and Book of the Year in the 2021 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards. Ellen is the editor of Flock: First Nations Stories Then and Now (2021). 

Header Image: Vikky Alexander, Between Dreaming and Living #4 (1985). Image courtesy of the artist. Vikky Alexander appears courtesy of Downs & Ross, New York.

Commissioned and published by PHOTO OP. on the occasion of Vikky Alexander’s exhibition ‘Between Dreaming and Living’ at PHOTO OP., 11 Feb–4 March 2023.