The Plague and a Zoo

A Visit to Como Zoo and Japanese Garden  

Three silverback gorillas 
knuckling in the sun,   
two feather-duster ostriches, 
too hot to run, 
picking grass along a fence, 
while giraffes with shambling elegance  
perform a kind of mating dance.     

Bears and monkeys! Maybe cranes,   
though not in view. (The sign remains.)  
A deep, green garden,   
a silent pond,  
shining koi,  
and so we end.

I went to Como Zoo with a friend yesterday. I did not write this poem after that visit, but visits to the zoo are all pretty similar. It was pleasant.

The best part is probably the Conservatory, which is a classic 19th century conservatory, full of palm trees and orchids. We skipped the Japanese Garden, due to fatigue and heat.

I don’t know how the rest of you feel. I am unsettled now that Patrick and I have been vaccinated and can (in theory) go out and about. I have now been out with friends three times, all of us vaccinated and taking precautions when around others: masks and distancing and much washing of hands. Each time I go out, I feel like a hermit crab that is being forcibly removed from its shell. Yes, it’s worth it, but boy it is hard. (A hermit crab would probably not feel anything was worth getting pulled out of its shell.)

It’s possible we will get back to normal. What is normal? And in which countries? And when will the next pandemic arrive? One problem with writing SF is, one has a pretty dark imagination. In SF only the idiots say, “This isn’t a problem. We will get back to normal.”


I was reading the group blog Crooked Timber yesterday, and there was a discussion of immigrants. When do they become assimilated? The answer of course is, when the Borg finally win. But aside from that… The English apparently have a test. Ask people who they rooted for in world cricket matches. If they root for India or Pakistan or the West Indies rather than England, they are not assimilated.

One of my childhood memories is what a big deal it was when members of Scandinavian royal families visited Minnesota. They came here because the state was very heavily settled by immigrants from Scandinavia. They were visiting their relatives, and their relatives were excited by this. “Our king!” “Our crown prince!” At some point, the visits mostly stopped, I suspect because the older members of the immigrant community died, and the younger ones felt less connected to the Old Country.

A number of years ago, I met a young man at the local Finnish store. He was probably third generation Finnish-American. He was studying Finnish at the university and planned to move to Finland. My father’s parents came from Iceland, so I am the second generation born in North America. I studied Old Icelandic at the university, because Modern Icelandic wasn’t offered. I’ve been to Iceland twice. My brother has been many times. Over time, connections attenuate. But not always. The wonderful Minnesota poet Bill Holm, like me a couple of generations away from the Old Country, was described by Icelanders as being more Icelandic than they were.

There is no question in my mind that I am American. But it’s also clear to me that I am Icelandic-American. When do people assimilate? Some people get rid of the Old Country connections as quickly as possible. Some remain floating between two cultures, which is not a bad place to be. In 3 or 4 generations, the connections may vanish — or may not. Why does it matter?

Oz and Detroit

Thinking about children’s books led me to think about Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book:

“O is for Oz. Do you want to visit the wonderful far-off land of Oz where the wizard lives and scarecrows can dance and the road is made of yellow bricks and everything is emerald green? Well, you can’t because there is no land of Oz and there is no Tin Woodsman and there is NO SANTA CLAUSE! Maybe someday you can go to Detroit.”

When I moved to Detroit in 1968, it seemed like a magical place to me. Every time I turned down an unfamiliar street there was another car plant. Many had been designed by the firm of Albert Kahn, a legendary industrial architect, and they were beautiful. The Detroit Art Institute had the Diego Rivera frescoes of industry in Detroit, which are still there, though most of the factories are gone, torn down. I’d go to Greek Town, which is apparently a tourist trap now, but was a genuine Greek neighborhood, full with taverns full of Greeks. I’d buy a bottle of Retsina, bread and cheese and to to Belle Isle, a park in the middle of the Detroit River, and sit under a tree and eat and drink.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if someone had given me the choice of going to Oz or going to Detroit, I would have been hard put to make a choice. As a kid, I would have picked Oz. As an adult, I think I would have gone for Detroit. Those Rivera murals are wonderful, and so is Belle Isle and Retsina.

And so was an Albert Kahn factory, lit up by the night shift, shining at the end of an unfamiliar street.

End of February

It’s glorious out. 41 F. No wind. A bright, clear, intensely blue sky. The snow on the Farmers’ Market roofs is melting, and the falling drops of water shine in the sunlight. I put on a light jacket, but didn’t bother to zip or to take a scarf. Very nice. I got a loaf of craisin walnut flax bread and a loaf of wild rice bread and then came home. Because I slept badly, I plan to spend the day lazing.

Strange Dream

I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. I don’t usually remember dreams, but this time I remembered a fragment of one. I was at a party, in a room full of people. No one was wearing masks. I think I was a teenager at a party of my parents’ friends. A couple were leaving early to go to the opera. People thought they were going to a local performance. I pointed out, in a somewhat obnoxious teenage way, that operas don’t begin at 7:30. Therefore, they must be going to an HD broadcast of the Met, which would begin at 8:30 EST and 7:30 CST. (I think operas usually start at 8, but this was a dream.) That was most of the dream: a party with no masks, an opera performance in a movie theater. The only other thing I remember is there were mosquitos in the room: only a few, but large and with red bodies, full of blood. Since mosquitos carry diseases, I figure they were a warning of plague. Not a nightmare, but strange and possibly unsettling.

Science Fiction (and Fantasy)

 The thing about sci-fi is
 a plot running like a monorail
 straight into distance,
 characters who lack
 The hero slays a dragon.
 Three moons rise,
 one after another.
 Lacking a steed, the heroine
 summons a dragon
 out of the turbulent sea. 
 A reader says:
 “I don’t understand.
 Nothing like that
 has ever happened to me.
 “The trains here
 Mostly run on time.
 Most days we dine
 a little after eight.
 “Little happens 
 here that we
 cannot with ease
 “Quirks of character
 are what engage
 and make me want
 to turn the page.”

 None the less
 the three moons rise,
 shedding rosy light
 on a vast plain. 
 An alien wizard
 with compound eyes
 pauses briefly
 to explain
 how things happen
 in this place
 outside ordinary
 time and space. 

More News About Almost Nothing

Having successfully added two publications or potential publications to this blog, I went and looked at my old blog. It looks pretty shabby compared to this one; and because I have not been paying attention, the comments — 3.6 thousand of them — are mostly spam. I can’t figure out how to delete comments in groups. I will work on that another day. Right now I am pretty happy with being able to add publications with covers here.

And I am happy to have a good looking blog. The amazing pattern on the home page is from a page of marbling hand done by Galen Berry. Years ago I worked for the Minnesota Center of Book Arts. I bought a couple of pages of his wonderful marbling in the MCBA shop and asked him if I could use them in a blog. He said yes, if I credited him. So here is the credit: Galen Berry. If you ever want a marbled cover for a book, he is the guy to go to.



Missing Years

Somewhere along the line, I lost a couple of years. I know what happened to 2020: the plague. I am less sure about 2019. The answer may be Donald Trump, a master of chaos. The unending series of crises on the news may have distracted me from writing and maintaining my website. I am used to the ordinary upsets of modern life, but Trump is special.

The crises he created were both malevolent and nuts. The awful treatment of refugees and immigrants, which is against national and international law;  the deliberate  wrecking of government departments, including the national parks and the US postal service. (A lot of people love the national parks, and almost everyone loves the post office. It got a 91% approval rating in a poll last year.) The pointless tariff fight with China, which ended up hurting American businesses and farmers. It’s as if he hated the US and its people and was determined to break the country and make its people miserable. I could go on, but everyone knows this stuff.

Through most of my adult life, writing has been my way of coping with the real world: analyzing it, criticizing it, and escaping it. But this time writing did not work. This was not just due to the Trump Administration, though it was four years of one damn thing after another. I think my faith in myself as a writer has been eroding for some time. I’m not sure why. Maybe age and getting tired. I could no longer see the point of writing.

At the same time, I’ve been having trouble reading. A friend of mine, who is a publisher and has to read many book-length manuscripts, gave up social media because she thought the constant jumble of unconnected short messages damaged her ability to concentrate. I think this may be true. I love facebook. Unlike writing fiction, writing for facebook gives immediate feedback. I block people who bother me, so mostly I get likes or friendly comments. What more could a writer ask for? Photos of cats are always welcome. Landscapes are also good. One of my facebook friends takes lovely photos of Minnesota winter woods: bare trees with their shadows lying on unmarked snow. I even like photos of people’s dinners. If the dinner looks especially good I ask for the recipe. Maybe if I spent less time with facebook I could read and write more.

In any case, I seem to have started writing again. It began this spring with writing poems. I have written poetry most of my life, but never a lot of it; and this time I wrote a fair number of poems in a short period. Then — in the fall — I moved on to short stories. I have finished two and am most of the way done with a third. Why the creative juices started flowing in Trump’s last year as president I don’t know.