Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus

Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus

by Janis Freegard

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781775581024
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 07/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 88
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Janis Freegard won the BNZ Katherine Mansfield short story competition in 2001, and her story "Liking Eyes" was short-listed for the inaugural Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing in 2007. She is the coauthor of AUP New Poets 3.

Read an Excerpt

Kingdom Animalia

The Escapades of Linnaeus

By Janis Freegard

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 2011 Janis Freegard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-102-4




    in the glowering dusk, by the waterhole
    gathered the people, the people

    out of the mud and the slime and brine
    crawled the people, the people

    from high-boughed trees and mountain caves
    descended the people, the people

    grunting in groups and sporting spears
    some shy-eyed and others wild

    hunters and priests and queens and thieves
    harvesters, shepherds and poets

    murderers, riders, sailors and growers
    herdswomen, pirates and kings

    smugglers, hairdressers, lawyers and dancers
    teachers and mayors, musicians

    pharmacists, pacifists, policy analysts
    bankers and graphic designers

    thus the world began its longest night
    and, cowering, watched them come

    harder than platinum gleamed their eyes
    sharper than flint
    and wide as death

    the covetous, gluttonous
    ransacking, plundering
    ravenous, ruinous

    On Reflection

    afterwards she grew
    thin as a rib
    and sought solace
    in the fur
    of wild wolves and bears

    her mother'd always told her
    when you see yourself
    in someone else's eyes
    it means they love you
    reaching for her absent lover
    she realised she herself
    was missing
    she sought herself
    in mirrors
    but found she was looking
    into wolf eyes

    behind her
    warming her
    – the breath of a bear

Lessons in Zoology

1. The ox is the quietest of all the beasts. Observe its strong, calm tail.

2. The hair of the ox is so dense, it absorbs any sound in the vicinity. You will notice there is no birdsong.

3. The female ox gives birth in complete silence. Nevertheless, her internal bellow will rattle you to your very core.

4. Oxen are known to communicate telepathically, moving in hushed herds – one mass, one thought across the plains.

5. If you encounter an ox, do not approach it. Back away warily with your eyes cast down. Fail to do so and you may never speak again.

6. The ancients had a saying: there are no eyes so tranquil, no ears so subdued, no breath so serene, that could not be stilled further by an ox.


    A rabbit and a donkey fall from the sky
    The rabbit hits the ground first

    Between this valley and the next
    Springs the mountain

    There are bars on the window of the man's heart
    The woman in the round room is weeping

    Many leaves are falling
    The sunlight catches every one

    I like the sentence the English language student wrote:
    I study computers and also my wife

    I am a student of my wife
    her every curve

    each nuance of smile
    tilt of head

    the flash of eyes
    degree of the pursing of lips

    her sleep-dishevelled hair
    her little noises

    my reply, when she asks what I'm thinking

    Les Frères

    my brother has two heads
    and both are bald
    he speaks softly (a duet)
    Nous sommes tes frères
    Elvis, il vit

    my brother has many children

    Voici le croque-monsieur
    Voilà l'assiette anglaise

    my brother has a cottage by the motorway
    gold coins rain down upon him
    in the evenings, his feet are licked by squirrels

    my brother eats marmalade
    my brother plays with trains
    my brother is an actuary/
      an executioner/
        an auctioneer

    I watched my brother from the Blackpool Tower
    leading a donkey (nous sommes tes frères)
    he buried me in the sand
    but I wouldn't stop breathing

    my brother's house has many voices
    some of them sing of police cars
    others whisper psalms
    with the lingering patience of curtains


    I was fifteen and working in a department store in my school holidays.
      I would see her on the street sometimes, her hair long enough
      to touch the backs of her knees; she must have been growing it
      her whole life. Hair like sunshine, fine and light, falling to earth.

    All I could think of was gazelles.
      She was a delicate antelope in high heels. Her hair swung as she walked.
      A woman at work whispered that she was a prostitute.

    I followed her the length of Queen Street one Friday night.
      She wore a sleeveless dress of sapphire blue. I kept a few metres behind
      her. Whenever she turned her head, I faked an interest in the
      nearest shop window. She looked as though nothing could touch her.

    I wanted to stop her in the street and ask her what sex was.
      I wanted to know if she could choose them, the men,
      or if she had to sleep with anyone who wanted her.

    I thought that, if I were rich enough, I'd buy some of her time.
      I'd rent an evening with her knee-length hair. I imagined going into a room
      that smelt of Opium perfume. The sheets on the bed would glow like
      sapphires. She would reach for my hand.

    The sun would come, then, hammering through the window, lifting us up.
      And the sapphire sheets would twist themselves through her hair
      to make a road to the sky. We'd be gazelles together.

      Cantering upwards.
      Rising into the light.

    Order: Rodentia

    You would display your other lovers for me
    the way a cat presents a mouse
    (Look what I caught, see how clever I am).

    It used to be that I cried over the little catches
    (Bad cat, leave those mice alone).

    Later I became proud of you.

    I hunted too, but never flaunted my trophies
    I ate them quietly, out of sight
    No one ever knew.

    I'm not sure about suitors who send flowers –
    it feels like bait for the snare
    (Here's a chrysanthemum, now marry me).

    What they don't know is
    I'm more rat than mouse,
    I've learnt to be wary of traps.

    Far better, the first time we meet
    just to pin me down &
    feed me brie.

    Ode to a Kuri

    how I've missed
    your twisted
    taxidermy smile.

    All those visits
    to the old museum
    in Buckle Street, thinking
    however bad my day was
    it could never be that bad.
    I would never be
    a poorly stuffed, moth-eaten,
    extinct dog.

    I saw you today, Kuri,
    in your Tory Street basement hide-out
    bottom shelf
    still encased in glass
    but now obscured
    by a pangolin.

    It was you, though,
    and that toothy grimace made me

    Mate, when they stuffed you
    they really stuffed you.

    O ratty old sneering dog
    O sunny, sunny day.

    Dear Evelyne

    I was delighted to learn
    that your favourite geographical feature
    is the hill and that someone in Malawi
    has been thoughtful enough to apprise me of this.
    No doubt life will visit many hills upon you
    in its course and generally you'll find
    the view is better from the top.

    I see also that your family
    is involved in piggerly farming
    to which I can only say, 'Fantastic!'
    It's a piggerly world out there, Evelyne,
    and it's as well to be prepared for it.

    I have put your photo in a red wooden frame
    next to last year's and the one before that.
    I'm relieved to see you still glare at me
    with bad-tempered defiance.
    I fancy you are disdainful of charity
    and can assure you any gratitude due
    is on my part alone.

    Each day as I wait for the bus
    that will lurch down the winding streets
    and deliver me
    to the glass-covered air-conditioned building
    where I ply my office trade
    I think of you, Evelyne,
    with your love of hills and pigs
    and know there's some use for it all.

    The Icon Dies

    The icon dies
    It hasn't been an easy life
    (The cat averts its eyes)
    I could have joined a circus, been the one that throws the knife

    It wasn't an easy life
    I did my best
    I could have joined a circus, learned to throw a knife
    I'm going now to my eternal rest

    I did my best
    Prayed and suffered as an icon should
    Now I'm off to my eternal rest
    If I could live my life again, I would

    I prayed and suffered as an icon should
    Yet there was always something that I lacked
    If I could live my life again, I would
    I'd join the circus, learn the knife-throwing act

    Yes, there was always something that I lacked
    The cat averts its eyes
    I should have joined a circus, learnt the knife-throwing act
    The icon dies.

    Electric Ice Cream

    And we whirl through our destinies
    like flocks of overgrown kittens
    feasting on electric ice cream

    isolated in the shadow
    of the unforgiving angel;
    around us, the jewellery of laughter.

    These are our days of perplexity.
    These are our personal spaceships.

    Because I love you

    ... I can offer you this flitting bat
    I have looped the membranous wings
    carefully over its bony elbows
    & conferred the gift of radar

    it is very like the one we saw
    chittering through dusk
    near the rusty Angel
    on the way to South Shields
    I made it for you

    see how it darts at head-height
    how its little ears never stop
    note the force of its heartbeat
    under a darkening sky



    The Skeleton Ending

    news of death arrived by bird:
    a box of bones
    scratching through the sunset
    for lottery numbers

    red claws a headstone
    letters meat feathers
    a tribute


    it's over a hundred years
    since Susan Baker found gold
    in the gizzard of a duck

    close to closing time
    a rushing man
    asks urgently if I've seen
    or heard any birds
    a fast grey cloud scoots over us

    you just need to keep your ears open
    if he stops near the stand
    of skirted tree ferns
    he'll see the tiny spiders
    hurrying over macrocarpa tables
    and note that the skraak of a kaka
    has failed to wake the weta
    in their custom-made hotels

    I point him to the wetland
    to sedges bound in white, spider-spun
    under wavering sun and tui song
    where round-faced, umber structures
    watch the fluttered chase of ducks
    and the white-throated shag
    glides at her leisure through the lake


    it was the kind we knew would peck out our pupils if we looked at it
    that bone-white beak
    funeral-director feathers
    we'd seen The Birds
    we knew it was all about screaming

    * * *

    while Agnes did her paper round
    a man in a Cortina said he had something to show her
    (it was the most exciting thing all week)
    when the police questioned her she told them yes
    I didn't know what it was

    * * *

    don't go near the gully or the Gully Gang'll get you
    all the girls get pregnant if they go to Randwick North
    eat too many orange pips and your appendix bursts
    never look a magpie in its knife-like eye

    Three Hummingbirds

    My mind is full of aspidistras. I went to the house of
    the glorious witch. We ate hummingbirds' eggs and
    small slices of persimmon glazed with honey. I wanted
    her to teach me how to fly, but all I could say was
    'aspidistras'. In the courtyard, hummingbirds hummed –
    a sad tale of missing eggs. I took the hand of the
    glorious witch. We walked together among the
    persimmon trees. 'Teach me how to dream of
    aspidistras,' I begged her. She laughed her honey-
    glazed laugh and then, and then, we were flying like
    hummingbirds, high above the courtyard.

    In the white stucco room with the man from Japan, we
    listened to some wilder shade of green. I sensed the
    presence of mules, underground. The man from Japan
    performed magic tricks with a cigarette. There was a
    cup on top of his wardrobe and I said: there's a cup on
    top of your wardrobe and he said: it's got spaghetti in it.
    I haven't laughed so much since I learned to fly. The
    underground mules toil subconsciously beneath the
    motorway. I'm wondering how far until breakfast.

    Two days ago I was floating beneath the surface
    wondering whether to come up for air and today I'm all
    hummingbirds. My garden is full of persimmons and
    cups of spaghetti. I have flown with a witch until
    breakfast. A man from Japan made a white stucco room
    disappear which has got to be a good thing. I have
    played with mules and danced through aspidistras. Our
    minds, unfortunately, have minds of their own. Three
    hummingbirds. All humming.


    we could see they'd never walked before
    a sorry sight, the lot of them

    scrawny-necked rejects, packed in the trailer
    finally seeing their first sun

    they took to freedom easily
    fattened themselves in the veggie garden

    & snubbed their custom-built laying boxes
    for hollows in next-door's lawn

    their battery past hadn't made them kinder:
    one chook needed her own run

    separate from her pecking peers
    until her bleeding back grew feathers again

    a dog got them all, in the end


    of all the colours to be
    you had to choose Antarctic white

    whiter than an ice field
    the sort of white

    that shows up shit
    to its best advantage –

    dinner scraps dropped
    from your double-decker beak

    stolen regurgitations
    meant for penguin chicks

    mucky smudges
    on a scavenging breast –

    fluffed like a Persian
    pure as diamond dust


Excerpted from Kingdom Animalia by Janis Freegard. Copyright © 2011 Janis Freegard. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Escapades of Linnaeus: Part I,
The Escapades of Linnaeus: Part II,
The Escapades of Linnaeus: Part III,
The Escapades of Linnaeus: Part IV,
The Escapades of Linnaeus: Part V,
The Escapades of Linnaeus: Part VI,
The Escapades of Linnaeus: Part VII,

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