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Ashburton Art Gallery

327 West St

Ashburton | 7700

P | 03 308 1133

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Gallery Hours

Open Daily: 10am - 4pm

Wednesday: 10am - 7pm

Closed Good Friday, Anzac Morning and Christmas day



Conversation with a mid-Canterbury braided river

April 19, 2018

‘Fifteen apparitions have I seen;

The worst a coat upon a coat-hanger’

(W. B. Yeats, ‘The Apparitions’)


Moved, as I am

immovable, like you


I turn over, I sleep

on my side


nestled in the

watery fact


of you. I fall about, collect

my thoughts—


another thing we have

in common—I get ahead


of myself, I meander

so as not to


lose my way. I rock

and sway.


I digress. And this is how

I come back to you


bedded and besotted, body strewn

with inverted clouds


migratory birds, dawn-lit



Like you, I have

my sources; I wade


the long waters

of myself. My ear


to the ground or

to the constant applause


of your rapids. You are your own

concert, open-air, a solitary leaf


crowd-surfing downstream

and the occasional


beercan thrown. Lately there has been

talk of you as


lapsed or recovering, dispersed

drained, interrupted or


resumed. And this

my sleepless night, my apparition:


an insect walking this land—

a coat-hanger on which might


hang a bright green shirt, a stream led down

a long avenue of hosepipe and


aluminium, a river flowing

sideways, its taniwha


reduced to a drizzle or fine mist

a trickle from


an automated tap. Your position on this too

is inarguable


as if argument was ever

a river’s way.


Braided, you tell me, I was

upbraided, scrambled across


siphoned and run ragged by hydrotrader, flood

harvester, water bottler, irrigator


and resource manager. This riverbed is

my marae, the long legs of wading birds


my acupuncture, these waters

my only therapy.


On clear nights

galaxies enter me, planetary bodies


like swimmers. How many minds

a river has—caddis and mayfly


eyeless eel and

native trout. As an argument


this might not hold water

but neither does


a paddock gone around

in circles


or a skeletal arm endlessly

scrawling its initials in


a sodden green ledger. Whichever way

the river doesn’t flow


I remain undecided, as is

water’s way.


I disperse, lost for words

I dry up.


I had an apparition, an insect

walking this riverless land


earthbound stars

rattling, beyond reflection


along a dry

river’s bed.


By Gregory O’Brien