Research Notes · 02/14/2020

The World and The Zoo

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Rob Roensch writes about The World and The Zoo from Outpost19.


Some parts of the zoo that did not make it into the book about the zoo

The white peacock, wandering. The pygmy hippo like an overstuffed suitcase with a mind. The heavy-pawed tiger stalking a child oblivious of her own miraculous safety.

The eerie resonant clicks from the device hidden in the palm of the elephant handler. Two black marbles somehow floating—the alligator’s eyes.

How hot a statue of a gorilla can be in the sun.

The electric shimmer of a hundred finger-sized silver fish in a television-sized box; how quickly it can become boring.

The strength of chimpanzees. The elegance of seals, but only under water. The fact that we need to be reminded to not throw coins into the seal tank.

The fact that an octopus is not the opposite of a person.

The fact that cheetahs are anxious.

A turtle like a plate with feet and hands, swimming.

Penguins in the summer. An artic fox in the summer, whiter than a dream of snow.

The elephants’ toys. The same birds poking in the grass in the lion enclosure as at the playground, our backyard, the 7-11 parking lot.

The panels of glowing, unreadable text in the oldest section of the aquarium attempting to explain fish. The smell of pond and spilled milk.

The taped-up sign announcing the illness of the giraffe.

The way the ostrich does not care about the rhinoceros.

The story about the grizzly bears named Will and Wiley. The story about when they closed Monkey Island. The story about how they kept the polar bear’s fur clean with laundry detergent.

The tokens that must be purchased to ride the rides—each one heavier than a quarter, thicker than a dime, smaller than a nickel, a coin from some other world. The pleasure of inserting these tokens one by one into the machine that allows my daughter through the gate to the carousel. The disappointment of the tinny and rattling ride on the false train.

The foot-long salamander named the Eastern Hellbender. The tiniest owl.

The weary little boy in an Orioles T-shirt encouraged, with increasing desperation, to look, to really look.

And, on the way out through the gates to the parking lot, the melancholy and unsettling feeling that there was some corner of the bright map I didn’t unfold, some path I didn’t spot and follow, some instance of looking over a fence into a pocket of tall grass or a tumble of manufactured boulders when I was not generous enough to offer the few seconds of attention necessary for some beautiful creature to reveal itself.


Rob Roensch is the author of The Wildflowers of Baltimore, winner of The International Scott Prize for Short Stories, published by Salt Publishing in 2012. He has published short fiction in American Short Fiction, Epoch and elsewhere and posts regularly at Medium. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife and two daughters.