Discovering Queenstown’s river of words

Waipounamu poem Queenstown

Ever noticed the beautiful poem carved into the wall down on Queenstown’s lakefront?  There since 1994, the chiselled sculpture – depicted as a flowing river of words – is a striking way to highlight Queenstown’s heritage, including its landscape, legends, pioneers and pilgrims, and the paths they took to establish the surrounding towns and settlements.

For more information about local art and sculptures visit QueenstownNZ.

WAIPOUNAMU (poem down by Queenstown lakefront)
by David Eggleton

Hoisting history on his back like a sugar – sack,
The swagger strides along greenstone trails.
All night the crib creeks are humming home,
And drowned towns float in their canvas shrouds.
They are just the ghosts of their original selves,
An emotional investment looted by snow-melt for,
Schemes to answer the question of illumination.
To tap this yearning for a golden age,
Singing shepherds held wisps of tussock
Which curled like lighted Chinese joss-sticks
On the fan – tan tables of sly-grog dens,
Frozen in that glacier known as the past.
In the forgotten graveyards, hair grows into grass
While wind sifts the sweet vernal over and over,
Like diggers letting gold dust pour through their fingers.
The Kingston flyer is chuffing
On the great Northern Railway to Wakatipu,
John Turnbull Thompson cut the run holders loose
With a panoramic survey and the confidence of a faith healer
In the middle of Queen Victoria’s royal century,
When the boom-time harvest of Celtic place names
Seeded central like a nouveau-Hiberian dialect
From Balclutha to Glimmerburn to Glendhu bay.
Winter arrives on time in a glitz blitz of powdery snow.
The hoar frost in a Quartztpoils of ice crystals
Turning weeping willows into frozen chandeliers.
Some strung the coils of number eight into fences
As trail bikes took to the state highway with a roar
And the rain shower passed a plume
Over small towns that are hardly seen for hills.
Tarns prickle with bubbles from upland soakage
at the start of Wakatipu on mounts Humboldt and Forbes.
Pasture stands four- square
To the intersection of lakes Hawea and Wanaka, from where
Nat Chalmers shot the gorge in a flax raft with his guides
After descending Mount difficulty in flax sandals,
The first Pakeha to see Lake Wakatipu, for which he paid
Reko and Kaikora a three legged pot – Te Kohoa!
Viper’s bugloss is the honeyed heart of the hive and veranda shadows are dark as delphiniums.
The four-fold path of the farmer leads to hot and cold taps, the meat-safes a Muslim bag, but the kerosene lamps gone
The way of aunt Daisy’s and uncle scrim’s voices on the wireless
Or goals from the boot and pine-tree when rugby took a capital.
Braids of rivers run dreadlock plaits from a taniwha’s
Stone head, so his blind eyes spurt waterfalls
and his chest is the sucking valley of a mudslide,
when swollen rivers heave against mountain flanks
and sinkholes laden with silt roar old man floods here!
He’d ride the whaleboat molyneaux from its tributaries
To the sea, or disgorge the matau of its spears and hooks,
If they hadn’t drained the hydro-electricity, way back.
Rivers rule our lives, gurgling, puddling, dripping,
Working the lake country round like a greenstone,
Turning out a tiki of interlocking curves flowing
Into Waipounamu, which breathes its green glow,
Of purple grape froth trickling a ripe roses scent
And beetroot palate into our salad day memories.
Views of the lake in its many moods: sometimes quiescent,
Like a windowpane stippled with rain, behind which
Cucumber leafage and swollen twigs revolve, and you
Can imagine fridge-full’s of rare home brews,
Or spiced-plum brandy, tots doled out to travellers;
Sometimes waves snapping fierce enough to whip out
All the tent pegs in canvas-town, with a wind able to upturn a wedding marquess’s trestle tables tomorrow.
Days of wooden coach wheels bumping out of Ida valley on the old Dunstan road in journeys of the pioneers.
Days realising meteorological balloons into a delicate apricot sky
In this landscape we invent, as it invents us –
From rock flake and spring water, from a skiff of froth
Tumbling over a weir into the afterglow of the Aurora.

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