Poetry Shelf favourite poems: Cilla McQueen’s ‘A Walk Upstream’

A Walk Upstream

Trout and White are walking up a stream. Sounds of rubber boots,
stones, water.

White   You could say it trembles.
Trout    With anticipation?
White    On the brink. Eggshell.
Trout     Of hope? Falling?
White    Grace? Hovering?
Trout    A dragonfly.
White     Exactly.

Trout     I debate the advantages of the one over the other, so that
              when I leap –
White    Look out – too bad. Here, give me your hand.
Trout     Thanks. Up to the knee.
White    Occupational hazard.

Crackling branches, sounds of effort.

White    Who’s this on the bank?
Trout     Neck! Well met!
Neck     Trout of Fish and Game, old boy. Good condition!
Trout     White, Egg Board.
White    Pleased to meet you.
Trout     Neck, of the racing fraternity.
Neck     Checking the watercourse.
Trout     Ensuring an even flow.
Neck      Mind if I join you?

Neck climbs down the bank. They continue upstream, occasionally
jumping stones and wading through small rapids.

Trout     Until I was joined by my friend White, who has
              distracted me with semantics.
White    Head of a pin. At a molecular –
Neck     Now you see it, now you don’t?
White    In terms of the benzene molecule for instance –
Trout     There! Over there!

They stop. Water flowing over stones, into pools. Birdsong.

Neck     Ripples? Under the water?
White    Quivering. It trembles.
Neck     Whitebait?
Trout     Give me lampreys. A surfeit. In butter.
Neck      You might find one under these banks.
Trout     Turning to bite its tail in the frying pan. Delicious.
Neck      A coiling, a succulent morsel, head to tail in a golden
White     Exactly. Molecular, neither here nor there.
Neck      A delicacy.
White    Ouroboros.
Trout     Certainly. A taste that trembles on the brink of

They continue, with effort.

Neck     Heard of the Crusader, Trout.
White    Ford?
Neck     Rabbit, my friend. Very good to stir-fry. Breed them in
White    Are we going much further?
Trout     Public release at Oreti Beach 1863. Speeches and songs,
              toasts to the ardent new citizens of our verdant land,
              gambolling off into the sandhills.
White    Gathered here together on the occasion of the
              unconditional release of the binary tree –
Neck      Procreation, eh, Fish and Game? No telling how far it’ll go.
Trout     Nature only needs one pair of bunnies.

Fade out sounds of them going on. Somebody slips, is rescued, they
continue. Birdsong and the sound of water take over.

Cilla McQueen
from Firepenny (Otago University Press 2005) and Poeta: selected and new poems (Otago University Press 2018)

Note on ‘A Walk Upstream’

Scooped from the stream of consciousness, in a bush setting, the poem imagined itself as a radio play. The part of my mind which loves to listen to and revel in the resonances of language produced three eccentric characters, complete with names, whose desultory talk as they continue upstream, engaged in ‘checking the watercourse’, ranges from quantum physics to rabbits.


Poet, teacher and artist CILLA McQUEEN has published 15 collections, three of which have won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. Her most recent work is Poeta: selected and new poems (Otago University Press 2018). She has also published a poetic memoir, In a Slant Light (Otago UP, 2016). Other titles from OUP are Markings, Axis, Soundings, Fire-penny, The Radio Room and Edwin’s Egg. In 2008 Cilla received an Hon. Litt.D. from the University of Otago, and was the New Zealand National Library Poet Laureate 2009–11. In 2010 she received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. Cilla lives and works in the southern port of Motupohue, Bluff.

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