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Monday, April 29, 2013

Cabbagetown and Beyond

Simpson house, named not for the farmer, but the architect
The Riverdale Zoo (1894-1974) was, mercifully, replaced by the more natural surroundings of the Glen Rouge Toronto Zoo. The conditions in the old zoo were less than ideal for animals in cramped dark cages.

 Perhaps they pined for their forgotten homes, or pondered their life in captivity for a crime they had not committed. Al visited them at night, while the zooman slept. His poem 'In Cabbagetown' conjures their sadness...and his.

"On cool nights I would creep
from the Cabbagetown house
on Sackville Street to Riverdale
Zoo with hard-beating heart
entering the monkey cage at 2
a.m. with an orange-bitten moon
over one shoulder...
 Al visits the zoo animals. The caged primates tell him of Africa, the mountain lion from "the high dry country of Colorado at cloud-hung Nimpkish Lake" puzzles over city inanities, the elephant who has never known home begs the poet: "tell me of India."

Inevitably, the spell is broken.

"at Toronto Crematorium Brown and Mackenzie slept"...
"The zooman woke in policeman blue
pointing his sixgun finger at me
"Get Out Get Out" and I
fled back to bed on Sackville Street
in Colorado and Nimpskish lake
\and a wind-sung skein of moon
on the Forbidden Plateau lulled me to sleep
in India And Africa dreaming of
what I can't forget
dreams I have never known -

'In Cabbagetown' was published in 1984 in 'Piling Blood', 10 years after the zoo was demolished.
The Riverdale Farm which replaced it, with its replica farmhouse, barn  and outbuildings, and domestic animal paddocks, is a lovely spot for city children to visit the country for a bit. Wonder if the spot still spawns poetry?

It's under threat by city politicians with condos in their eyes, but a determined local campaign is underway.

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