Clutha River


Imperceptibly the water creeps
covering another stone each day,
where once a torrent crashed
and cut into the canyon’s bed
fingertips of black water climb
sheer walls with ease;
where once a frenzied torrent’s song
echoed in this ancient slot
a gentler yet more powerful flow
murmurs down its channel to the south.

Time crushes on the canyon wall
and broken ripples rebound
from a world not too long gone;
the swish of gravel in the pan,
swirl of sand around the shining flakes;
tall hatted Chinese prospectors
rocking their cradles in gullies and creeks
blowing their clay-pipe smoke into the day;
great wheezing steam engines
pumping water through cast iron pipes
to tear at the gaunt rock face;
and at Alexandra determined dredgers
chewing at the river bank
scattering behind a train of tailings
marooning themselves in mobile lagoons.

The phantom bridge at Cromwell
trembles like a mirage beneath the flow
and the river’s inquisitive tongue tastes
whisky stains in abandoned houses,
gold miner sweat, the scent of women,
cardsharps and the riot of despair.
Like river mist a sigh from long ago
creeps up the hill into the brand new town,
voices from all around the world
babble among rooftops gilded by the sun,
and the great Clyde dam, puffing out his chest
hearing their echo in his empty penstocks
waits his moment to wash them from times gravel
and gush an arc of new… electric gold.


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