The poems in this first full collection from New Zealand's Janis Freegard are categorized by Linnaean taxonomy: the six sections Mammalia, Aves, Amphibia, Pisces, Insecta, and Vermes are interspersed with a seven-part poem on the topic of Carolus Linneaus himself. Here Freegard catalogs the various fantastic and artistic, anthropomorphic and objective, rational and self-serving ways that humans draw on the animal world: as symbol and allegory, food and friend, ravening enemy, and sacred icon. From surreal prose poems to gorgeous listsfeaturing a stuffed Maori dog, murderous magpies, and cake-shop cockroachesFreegard’s verse reflects the diversity of the animal kingdom and its light-hearted fancifulness belies a strong commitment to conservation.
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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.
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The Escapades of Linnaeus
By Janis Freegard
Auckland University PressCopyright © 2011 Janis Freegard
All rights reserved.
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
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
she sought herself
but found she was looking
into wolf eyes
– 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
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/
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.
Rising into the light.
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
TE PAPA OPEN DAY
how I've missed
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,
I saw you today, Kuri,
in your Tory Street basement hide-out
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.
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
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
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
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
meant for penguin chicks
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.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe 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,