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The Time of the Giants
By Anne Kennedy
Auckland University PressCopyright © 2005 Anne Kennedy
All rights reserved.
In the time when giants walked the earth
rain was all that came between
a giant and his gods
or hers. When giants walked the earth
their winter stamp could still be felt
drumming next spring
and when a giant fell for another giant
their love was the height
of all things high then low.
She grew to love him
the way rain drums in spring.
Boy girl, furniture, shyness
When the children sat on their chairs they spilled
over the sides and hid them as if the chairs
were mountains and they themselves
low cloud heavy thunderous any minute
about to bucket down onto tussock
or enter the mulchy underloops of carpet.
This was limbo then there would be hell
maybe although no one had
been there and come back to tell
At night they lay in their creaky beds like
arrived at the very bottom of the valley
(i.e. no further to roll). In this way the children
encompassed the highs and lows of
That is all you need to know
how every cell quivers.
There was a boy older and a girl younger
always one bicycle wheel in the wake
of the other. This seemed to compound things.
When they were thirteen and nine respectively
there came a knocking at the door one day
during a storm and they thought it was
the storm knocking
so they ignored it until the girl saw
from the window it was a man with a windsock
for hair and raindrops stilled above his nose.
He came from the Orthopaedic Department
of the Children's Hospital, a Mr Flucktrough.
They had been waiting for him.
Strictly speaking the children were under the
of Neurology but it was Orthopaedics
that made the furniture, so they got
Mr Flucktrough. Mr Flucktrough shrugged off
too big coat (a small man hard to
shop for) and looked up from his sweet well
of tea thank you very much but remember
not too much tea for the little ones
who were sipping buckets. He himself
grew up on it. It stunted his growth the lack of
absorption. How a plant's tip steeped
in water could bar the way of heavy metal
like locks and chains
amazing but in those days we knew
The girl thought to swim in a sea of tea
and drink with every stroke
with milk and sugar and it would dye her hair
the colour of tea and her skin would be
tea she would be small with a delicate
flavour like tea.
But you two said Mr Flucktrough if you keep off
the tea and with your at first glance good strong
bones, with any luck you'll be the height of a
I don't know the height of a round
tower! Mum and Dad's tea was made
choppy with their spluttering.
The children looked down on the top of his
head their faces blank with curiosity
his nervous manner and the look of someone yes
about him. The pebble glasses (filmed with
white dried rain) the pale face
tubercular perhaps but they certainly
Mr Flucktrough surveyed the tender
set about measuring length width circumference
serious as a Sputnik circumnavigating
the earth. He took
his pencil from behind his ear the way they
launch shuttles. All was
absorbed in the room. The sounds of parents
of man (Mr F.) having one place and one place
He then asked boy girl in that order because the
was taller and went first in the world
like an important early letter of the alphabet
always first in line at school and on everybody's
list, to get up from their chairs and traverse
the stuffy little what-would-have-been-called
parlour when the house was built
proceed along the passage
in the wake of the ghost who once drifted
the polished floors itself like the wake of a car
on a wet
motorway or a wedding train
to their bedrooms. There to lie
in their beds. They curled like soft unborns or a
following a sea's hairline or guarding
their own pockets of warm air against
They looked up at Mr Flucktrough
bulky with their old sleeps
The boy was eight feet in his stocking
feet. The girl tiptoed behind.
Ever since beginning or anyway remembering
that they had begun and that this was
the big children had been waiting. They didn't
think about waiting, they waited the way
breathing or the beating of a heart waits
for death i.e. get on with it.
They waited for a visit from Mr Flucktrough. His
he will tell you quite frankly (a good man)
would break your heart. But the children
on the list are always too busy with their limbs
and the things that go with them, condiments
like laughing etc to be bothered with
There are the names of children with unique
or a way of feet no one ever thought up before
or original arms or even no arms. They rise
up the page as slowly as steam or bubbles or
or anything giddy with possibility.
Sometimes they might pick their way delicately
over the abandoned terrace
a dead child leaves in its wake.
In heaven there would be no need for furniture.
Mostly their slow ascent was obscured
by the cloudy horizon of
the room they were sitting in.
The big children — your children now, the
you're reading about — their names mingled
with the long line of names like fish jumping
their bone marrow was
running amok like rivers yes yes
in spring. These rivers had a joyous wildness
about them and the possibility
no certainty of flood.
Each month the Orthopaedic Department of the
Hospital measured with knuckly instruments
(not their fault, like old hands, tenderly)
the humerus, the radius, the pelvis, the ribs
the spine, femur, fibula, tibia
as pet cats (Tibbles, etc) stroked over and over
for comfort and to please the cat. The children's
eyes rolling through the long hours of twilight
might sometimes blink shut with
their own little night or the next day.
Neurology scanned their brains for answers none
as yet. Their spines learned to round
themselves like question marks. The parents
must understand the possibility was remote
but one day there might be a breakthrough
as a curve of sea wall cast aside by a storm.
One day brain and body awash
with each other but don't hold
They looked at the father closely, his slightly
bigger-than-usual hands and feet his well
way of getting up from the fine lines of a chair
his carefully fenced sentences and
as in a moment of gaining enlightenment
everything was understood. Ah.
The parents asked him where he got a name like
and he said it was left him by the father he
never met. A windfall I suppose although some
might think it an albatross
the wing of his white hand covering his smile
and bad teeth (one assumed) and now we really
must get on with the business of size.
Mr Flucktrough released the big bones
of the children like a dam breaking over
toys. Toys! The boy is thirteen. He is fevering out
all over in his final tropical form.
In the bedroom Mr F. said straight now if you
though kindly. They stretched out and their feet
fell all shoeless into space. Now we can see
said Mr F. as the children performed the required
to audition for the lead role in their own lives
reluctant eager marching lying (both types).
Now you can stretch out. No one
had ever said that. And when your new furniture
arrives your size and shape will be
as a mountain fits its knees under cloud
as salmon has a bed of water to fall back on
as the sky is a chair for a tree. No?
There was a minute's silence.
The boy strived to be sullen, the girl
upholstered her teeth with well frankly
lips into a sitting-room for a homebody
of shyness. Mr Flucktrough dug for sweets as
jelly to blow open the shy mouths
bumbling and murmuring into the mouth of his
as if it were his loving wife in bed. They're
here somewhere but Mr Flucktrough was
too late and later he would sigh to his wife
as a hand sighs over documents
to be signed finally.
The children shook their heads at the sweets
were barely children) (they were real sweets
and looked down at Mr Flucktrough kindly
because well now they were almost adult
they knew all the essential
ways of declining.
Good. Mr Flucktrough told Mr and Mrs ah hesitating
at the name and casting hastily down through
his reading glasses giving thanks for how light
can be bent to his own ends and the name
became bigger. This is not just a job
but his calling.
If there's anything anything. Of all his clients
he remembered with fondness the giant
children the height of a round
tower and their sweet no.
As he left a vase blew from a stand on the porch
and rolled over the footpath into
the gutter where the shards turned their
once secret insides towards the sky.
And so the little chairs little beds dear little
were transfigured one blinding afternoon
as if seen suddenly through a new
magnifying glass powerful capable of
cruelty. Removal men
humped the crusty pieces Mum and Dad
had picked out twenty odd years before for their
interior, like wedding underthings.
In the wake of dust and lace
spiders fled for their lives. The men
carried in the light hollow springy blocks of light
one whistling a hollow tune into
a divan bed like a town hall.
Mum and Dad's hands motioned
in the air lost at first and groping for their old
shadows wrapped in new wood.
At dinnertime they climbed up high
to sit down.
Never mind! Only the one sigh among all of them
shared out evenly. There certainly were
bigger issues life and death for instance. With
every mountain could be an ornament. Mum and
were quite used to nature as a cloud
thank you very much wrung out in their
thunderous hands and the great gouts
of precipitation squally and unseasonable
because there were no seasons.
The big children would have no children
and there would be no grandchildren
to love or they would have big children
and there would be
no grandchildren to love.
There were two children but now they are grown
A boy, twenty-two — a man, he's a man now
sits in his room and smokes
a lot of hash and listens to the stereo.
You can't hear the songs only feel them
through the floor, hearsay. He listens for the
He has a masters degree in Creative Writing
like a pet he has grown quite fond of.
The girl is nineteen. The woman.
She is seven foot six, stooped
her hair hangs like vines from a tree.
This is what happened all before she was twenty.
How the sky is given
There was once a giant who loved another giant
as if this were normal. They lived on their own
land mass and married each other on their
continent where plants grew wildly
and the wind moaned in an odd voice
they spoke in riddles and their
children were born big.
The nineteen-year-old girl (woman) could
curse them their love which must have been
the exhibitionist height of rain in fact she does
— curse them that is but can't think of words
with big enough you know
This is her history that is
The giants lived on land that darkened at dusk
and left the white sky brilliant against it
they grew stark vegetables and hunted
slow-moving animals, now extinct.
The giants could step across
the craggy outcrops and the fords
and were perfectly formed by some god
or another for the terrain. They praised
the land and the gods and themselves
every day and had no cause to
wring their hands.
There was Crightmop and Mollypool and their
six sons and six daughters and if you looked
across the causeway old Finn MaCoul built
from hexagons one furious Cubist day and night
(as an invitation to Cuchulain, the bigger giant
over the water
to come and fight) you would see
silhouetted by the light on the water
the six sons and six daughters
of Lennihanahan and Briderygore.
One day those sons and daughters came trip-trap
over the causeway following the footsteps
of Uncle Cuchulain (who'd come spoiling for a
fight, fists balled
all those years ago, going back as far as oh never
Finn MaCoul's wife had swaddled Finn as a
baby is swaddled
and tucked him up in bed and said look asleep
and Finn MaCoul
looked inward and Cuchulain thought these were
the tight eyes of
a baby and the daddy of that baby must be a
really big giant
and he ran back over the causeway).
Well anyway the six sons and the six daughters
who had come over the water were shy at first
then playful a bit then playful a lot
then romped together big in the fields
laughing and falling over each other
for all of the rest of summer and into the time of
(if they had apples)
until the weather got bad then
they leapt over the hillocks and snuggled down
in pairs from the harsh autumn winds.
Come midsummer's night there were the babes.
There was rejoicing and dancing and much
screaming of the babies there were so many.
And the mummy and daddy of each baby
was built a cottage by everyone else who was
too young or too old to have the particular
that comes before babies
although they probably had some pleasure
and they all settled down and that is how
the tribe began. And it was
a good one.
The names go on and on
Clarkephilp and Wilkidam and Connoldy
and many more forgotten
but remembered by the giant cells jingling
in all their bodies as if they were change
in the pocket folds of the hills.
Over time, a long long time the giants grew
quite simply because there were more of them.
They filled up the land so there was less distance
between neighbours and they didn't have to
pop far for an ale and a tale
or the market place where death was
and eventually the need to go striding
giant-style over the land was near enough
extinct. There were attempts
to revive it at village games (long jump, pole
but as one wise descendant of a giant said
once something is enshrined in culture
it is dead. Never mind.
Now there were families for growing and families
and families for hunting though there were
fewer wild beasts. Each generation
was smaller than the last — in their bodies that is
they still had a lot of children just
medium-sized ones. And some of them
kept going with the smallness and got so small
little people, their limbs dainty
their heads like acorns, all so small they could
live under a leaf, no trouble to anyone at least
not as much trouble as a giant — except for
But the bigness of the inside was never forgotten
by the giant genes and the giant names.
Sometimes you might get a throwback
in a family of medium ones, a big redhead
good at games
and they'd reach up to chuck him
under the chin and call him
Tiny. Or her.
Then came the blackness all that was bright
became black and all that was plump thin
and all that was joyful sorrowful and playful
and spoken silent and musical mute and
unthinkable and a bellyful became
a groaning and the fleshy eye sockets
of the children
full of shadows
When they got to a certain
point of fullness they died.
Meanwhile across the border the merchants sold
gin for a farthing a quart rather than let their
fields of grain rot in the ground. They etched
the new phenomenon for posterity and you can
if you look it up in the library the black lines
like moving silk weeds figuring
not the dead children over the hills
but the drunken mothers teeming in their own
So the giants went on a ship which in those days
was a way of going to heaven
or hell depending. They said goodbye like dying
with a kiss and a last cup of tea
and a weeping procession
and a fiddling down to the sea.
But the great ship that carried the descendants
of Crightmop and Mollypool like babes carried
by their wooden mother
was dashed against the rocks a woman falling
to domestic violence (the wife of a terrible
sea god) off the coast of the new land
and most of the giants rolled dead into the sea
and washed in against the land
and if you look out
you will see how the giants
became the long bodies
of the headland.
The saved few woke on the beach warm from an
incubator dream of warm sea and land and no
to the new sounds. Birdcall, branches.
Alive! But would you believe it?
The tribe from across the border back home
the merchants who squandered the grain
the very same! Running this place.
So this is us alive but ever looking over our
at the gaze of another
who watched our wizened children
stopping their games and
dropping from starvation
like early windfall for heaven.
The girl (woman) learnt this at her grandmother's
knee now gone and her body and her soul
gone too somewhere and so she hates it
(that is the way of inheritance
for some people unfortunately).
How they would have died but for the new land
how she wishes they had sort of
in some shape or form.
They do anyway gradually
the old people died leaving things undone
the frayed ends of
children and grandchildren.
Excerpted from The Time of the Giants by Anne Kennedy. Copyright © 2005 Anne Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
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