Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Goodbye to Serpents

My father loved zoos, even the tired old cages and their tired old captives at Grant Park in Atlanta. He liked to look into the eyes of the animals in a way that was only possible in places such as these, and he thought somehow that he connected with the wild beasts behind the bars. I witnessed the scene that became the poem "Encounter in the Cage Country," at the London Zoo in 1962, and in the real world there were no dark glasses. The panther just saw my father in the crowd, and fixed on him, and would not take his eyes off of him. But the favorite zoo of all was the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, which has changed very little since we used to go there, even if the old hole in the wall entrance off of Rue Cuvier is now re-built and leads the way to a pleasant little restaurant before you get to the entrance of the ménagerie. This was the scene of many a very happy afternoon in 1954, and again in 1962, where the visits always centered around the vivarium and the snakes there -- and their eyes -- that are the subject of "Goodbye to Serpents." Today, if you sit on the bench where we used to sit outside the vivarium, this is the view. - CD