Monday, June 13, 2011

Zot and the Axolotls by Janis Freegard

          Earlier in the afternoon we had all admired
          the newly constructed axolotl tank, more of
          a complex really, with a glass bridge between
          chambers, a grand axolotl hotel, five stars with
          room service, porters and a parking attendant.
          It was still empty, its soon-to-be residents
          slumming it in temporary accommodation.

like other amphibians, the axolotl has a three-chambered heart
they are perennibranchiate, reaching sexual maturity in the larval stage
axolotls were a staple in the Aztec diet

          I was stoned, I remember that.

the axolotl is neotenous and rarely metamorphoses spontaneously
it can regenerate entire lost appendages in a matter of months
the days of the axolotl surviving in the wild are numbered

         Zot tripped and fell to the floor and lay there,
         unmoving, by the new de luxe tank. I was
         sitting next to him in an armchair thinking:
         Zot’s fallen over. Just that. It was someone
         else – Denise perhaps – who noticed the
         blood. Soon afterwards an ambulance arrived.

Lake Chalco has been drained (but see how they smile their wide amphibian smiles)
Lake Xochimilco is reduced to canals (oh, oh, those beady well-spaced eyes)
roll up, roll up, tasty axolotls

        Oh, see how their pretty gills flutter.

Editor, Saradha Koirala

Axolotls are creepy. They're tricksy shapeshifters able to sneak their way out of the water and walk on land. Something about the tank's "soon-to-be residents /slumming it in temporary accommodation" worries me. Where are they hiding?

I love the way this poem plays with diction. The text-book language in italics has its own beauty: "a three-chambered heart" is magical and echoes the design of the "de luxe" accommodation built for this unique creature. On the other hand, the language is frank and immediate: "I was stoned, I remember that." And then of course that last line! Ah!

Janis Freegard is an award-winning Wellington writer whose work has been published in all the literary journals I can name, including Poetry NZ, JAAM, Turbine, Trout and brief. Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus, is her first solo collection of poetry, published by AUP.

The poems "explore the various interactions between human beings and other animals, but also deals with wider subjects: love and loss, evolution and conservation, sex and death." Freegard has arranged the animal-themed poems according to eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus' classification system of the natural world.

You can read more about Kingdom Animalia: The Escapades of Linnaeus at the book's webpage. For more on the poet herself read Janis Freegard's blog. And then check out the sidebar here where 30 Tuesday Poets from four different countries post poems by themselves or others they admire.

This week's editor, Saradha Koirala, teaches English at a Wellington Secondary school. Her first book of poetry Wit of the staircase was published by Steele Roberts in 2009. Her work has also appeared in various literary magazines, including Hue & Cry, broadsheet and The Listener. She is currently working on her second book in every spare moment she can find.


Emma said...

Thanks for posting this Saradha and for writing it Janis! There are lots of great poems in this book so I definitely recommend people buy it if they haven't yet!

Mary said...

Go, Linnaeus!!
And - yes - get the book.

Harvey Molloy said...

It's a riot of a poem. Good one Janis.

susan t. landry said...


i, too, want to follow up and read more. the premise of Janis's book is so in tune with reading i'm doing now.
thank you to both janis & saradha.

Mary McCallum said...

I sold a copy of Janis' book the other day in the bookshop without lifting a finger (selling poetry usually needs some hard sell - I often have to open the books and start reciting...) The customer fell on it with glee, said she'd studied classification of animals and thought the poems delightful. Apparently her husband read her poems at night in bed and, Janis, that's where you were headed (funny thought). Then the customer opened the book and read me the poem about frogs and climate change - a fabulous two-liner. I have to say this is a wonderful cover, no wonder it got noticed. Bravo Janis and thanks Saradha.

Janis said...

Thanks everyone! And especially to Saradha for choosing this.

Saradha Koirala said...

You're welcome! I love it and enjoyed sharing it with the world. Mary, I love your story about Janis' book!