Orion Blog, page 3

AUDIO: “The Spiral Labyrinth,” a Poetry-Sound Collaboration

Four years ago I lost hearing in one ear while backpacking in western Montana.

Despite many visits to doctors, acupuncturists, and naturopaths, the cause of the loss was never fully determined. It was an uncertain, worrisome, vertigo-spinning time out of which came my essay in Orion’s Spring 2019 issue, “The Silent Labyrinth.”

All these years later, I still can only hear muffled, underwater sounds in my left ear. The vertigo has subsided and I am adjusting to living in a hearing world with only one “good” ear.


My mentor, Peruvian poet Eduardo Chirinos, was also hard of hearing. He used to say that this made him draw nearer to the ones he loved. He encountered the world as a poet, looking for windows and doors to new experiences. “Aguzar ese oído,” he advised. Sharpen that ear and listen to new things, to the inner ear that is knocking at our door. “Se nos presente con humildad.” It appears before us with humility to offer its gifts.

Eduardo has since passed away, and the hearing in my left ear has not returned. Still, I try to heed my mentor’s advice and encounter the world with wonder and gratitude. One of the gifts my left ear presents is the necessity of listening closely and deeply, questioning the sounds I once assumed to know in an instant. Now, I must pause and really focus on the distant siren, the bird call, or a child’s voice.   

I believe that sound artist Gretchen Jude also listens in this way. Here, we collaborated on a sound piece that reflects and ripples back my experience with hearing loss. We met over a series of weeks in Mānoa Valley on the island of O‘ahu—our home. Photographer Gen Fujitani captured some of these creative moments in the forests of Mānoa.

Listening to Gretchen’s work, I am flooded with memories: learning to read by breaking familiar words into phonic parts; waves of overlapping sound at parties and noisy restaurants that make me feel foreign to myself; nodding politely without really understanding; and those moments when, threatened with nothing (no sound, no hearing), I wanted everything, even the ugly, even the horrible buzz or blare.

Those sounds too, all of them, are beloved.

Gretchen Jude is an experimental composer and performer born and raised in Idaho. Growing up in Idaho inspired Gretchen’s improvisatory style of interaction with earthly environments, from urban to wilderness ecologies. Gretchen worked extensively with choreographers and filmmakers, most recently on the soundtrack for the award-winning documentary, Midnight Traveler. Gretchen has studied a variety of performance practices and holds an MFA in Electronic Music & Recording Media from Mills College, a P.h.D. in Performance Studies from University of California, Davis, and certifications from the Sawai Koto Institute (Tokyo) and the Deep Listening Institute (New York).  Gretchen’s work has been released on Full Spectrum, Susu Ultrarock, and Edgetone Records. More at: www.gretchenjude.com.

Laurel Nakanishi was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.  Through her work as a writer and educator, she has lived in Montana, Nicaragua, and Japan. She is the author of the Berkshire Prize winning poetry book, Ashore, forthcoming from Tupelo Press. Her poetry and essays have appeared in national literary magazines and a chapbook, Mānoa|Makai. Laurel has been fortunate to receive grants from the Fulbright Foundation, Japan-US Friendship Commission/National Endowment for the Arts, and Wrolstad Foundation. Laurel received her MFA in poetry from the University of Montana and her MFA in creative nonfiction from Florida International University.  She lives with her family in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. For more: www.laurelnakanishi.com.

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Mother’s Day: Three Staff Picks

For thirty-seven years, Orion has curated some of the best writing and photography about the relationship between people and nature. This Mother’s Day, Orion staff selected three of our most memorable pieces about motherhood, about the strength and compassion, the joy and fatigue and courage sustained by all mothers of the world.

“Fear Itself” by Melanie Challenger
Autumn 2018

“I don’t believe I was truly fearful until I became a mother, which was seven years ago now. There is experiencing fear for yourself, which is really an acute category of loneliness, when you become suddenly aware of your vulnerability and of your entrapment in your single, unique body. Then there is fear for your children, which, loosed from the confines of one body to worry about, magnifies and outstretches both time and specifics. I suspect that many parents are towed by an invisible thread of fear for their children pretty much their whole lives.” Read the full article. 
  “The Art of Waiting” by Belle Boggs
January/February 2012

“Near the river, where the song is louder, their discarded larval shells — translucent amber bodies, weightless and eerie — crunch underfoot on my daily walks. Across the river, in a nest constructed near the top of a tall, spindly pine, bald eagles take turns caring for two new eaglets. Baby turtles, baby snakes, and ducklings appear on the water. Under my parents’ porch, three feral cats give birth in quick succession. And on the news, a miracle pregnancy: Jamani, an eleven-year-old female gorilla at the North Carolina Zoo, is expecting, the first gorilla pregnancy there in twenty-two years.” Read the full article. 
  “Seeking Resemblance” by Jill Sisson Quinn
May/June 2017 – *Available in Print only.*”When I take the dog out to do her business, my one-year-old son points to our barn, which houses an antique tractor, and repeats in a soprano voice, rolling the r as if this is the only way he can squeak it out, ‘Carrr! Carrr! Carrr!’ It is his first word, a general term he uses for anything with wheels (a hose reel, the high chair) and anything that sounds like a car (an airplane, a strong wind). I’d hoped for something more natural — ‘tree’ or ‘sun’ or ‘flower’ — or, of course, ‘momma,’ having waited years for the role, my husband and I finally choosing to adopt in our late thirties. But ‘car’ it is. I carry him toward the barn.” 

Give your mother the gift of an Orion subscription today. 



Seven Poems for National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month (and Earth Day!), I’ve selected a poetry sampler that captures the range and push into the horizon of what I hope to bring to Orion’s poetry offerings each issue.

Some of the poems are loud and boisterous in their joy. Others are more contemplative, urging a look into the mirror to see what could be done for our planet. But this is just a sampling—pull up a chair, dig in, do some gardening in this poetry field. If you come across one or three that move you, consider sharing with a friend or handwriting it out in a journal. Perhaps these selections might even make you pick up a pen or grab your laptop and tease out a few poems yourself.

Happy National Poetry Month from all of us here at Orion.

– Aimee Nezhukumatathil, poetry editor
1) The Tree Sparrows, by Joseph O. Legaspi (January/February 2016) 
I adore this rumination on what makes a home solid and secure, the fragility of what it means to think of the safety and security of others’ homes before our own comfort. Thanks to the Academy of American Poets, there is now a great resource to teach this sweet and quiet poem to children.  
2) Roses, by Ellen Bass (May/June 2017)
The kaleidoscope of colors shooting through this poem even as the face of illness and death looms near give us “small mercies” indeed.
3) Whereas I did not desire, by Layli Long Soldier (May/June 2017) 
This poem gives a fresh take on interconnectedness, reminding us of the meaning of Lakota: friend.
4) Snow White, by Katherine Riegel (January/February 2017)
I was thrilled to present this new version of winter/wintering—in a physical and emotional landscape through a persona not often associated with nature.
5) Tyee, by Brian Doyle (May/June 2016)
Ah, how devastated I am that there will be no more new Brian Doyle poems flying into my email inbox. Luckily, before he passed there was this: a reminder of how even the not-so conventionally elegant animal manages to live on the page from Brian’s sure and steady pen, offering dignity to animals we’d normally pass over. He reminds us to marvel while these animals are still with us. 
6) Thieves, by Todd Davis (September/October 2015) 
Spring means such sensuality and tumble-over in the animal kingdom, but here Davis reminds us of how flowers relish this unfurling too. 
7) Frequently Asked Questions: #6, by Camille Dungy (July/August 2015) 
I’m a big fan of these “poem-answers,” and I admire how this poem doesn’t shy away from the difficult work (and tenderness) of writing and writing well. It’s a beauty of an ars poetica for the Anthropocene.

Young Readers Ask: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

Young Readers Ask” is a new Orion web series where young readers interview authors about books. This is our second installment.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
David Wallace-Wells
Tim Duggan Books, 2019. $27, 320 pages.  

David Wallace-Wells is the deputy editor of New York magazine and author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. He has a daughter named Rocca, who at just one is probably too young to understand anything her father says about the climate crisis—not that the grown-up world is much better at understanding just how dramatically life could be transformed if we don’t, all of us, change course.

Geronimo LaValle, age seven, is a second grader at a public dual language elementary school in Washington Heights, New York City. He’s been practicing capoeira for three years. His favorite podcast is “Story Pirates,” and he’s currently reading the Percy Jackson series. A frequent participant in Writopia Lab, his first published short story, “Stay Out of the Attic!” was published last fall in The Parenthetical.

Geronimo LaValle: Will the Earth be destroyed when I’m a grown-up?

David Wallace-Wells: The short, happy answer is: no. The planet will still be here and will be for a very, very long time.

GL: Are you just saying that to make me feel better?

DWW: No—it’s true! But it also isn’t as simple as “yes” or “no,” a destroyed Earth or a happy one. The more important question is, what kind of planet will it be? We don’t yet know the answer to that question, because it is up to us all to answer it—in how we act, what we choose to do, and how we manage to respond to the crisis of climate change. If we don’t respond—very soon, and very aggressively—the planet will likely look very different fifty years from now than it does today. But not so different that you might confuse it for another planet—it will still be Earth, and it will be where many, many humans live, including you.

GL: In fifty years I will be fifty-seven. My kids will be grown-ups. How will whales be affected by global warming since the ocean is getting warmer?

DWW: Oceans are complicated systems—as complicated as cities, or jungles, or outer space. There are many millions of species living alongside one another and supporting one another. There is a lot we still don’t understand about oceans and how they will respond to global warming, but of the impacts we do know, it does not seem that whales in particular will be affected in an especially dramatic way. The warming of water may change where they live, what they eat, and where they travel. And there may be more profound impacts we don’t yet know about or understand. But given the understanding we know have, whales will not be among the most impacted species.

GL: Will we change from gas cars to electric cars?

DWW: Thankfully, we already are, especially in the richer parts of the world, where people can afford slightly more expensive toys and gadgets. But it’s not happening fast enough, and not in enough places—yet. Since the technology is getting a lot better (and a lot cheaper) very quickly, electric cars could spread even faster in the next decade or so, which is great. But cars are only one part of the problem; energy is another, though wind and solar power are making it much more “green,” too. Unfortunately, there are many parts of the problem that are more difficult to solve.

“If things get really bad, it will be because of what we all choose to do,
and what decisions we choose to make, over the next few decades.”

GL: Cow farts are a problem.

DWW: Actually, the burps are a much bigger problem, though farts are funnier. But there are some studies showing that, if we feed our cows just a little bit of seaweed, it could really help—the problem with those burps and farts are methane, and seaweed could cut the methane content by at least half, maybe more. Of course, beef is just one little part of our carbon crisis. Which is why I think it’s not going to be a problem solved in only one way, or only one technology; it’s going to take everything we have.

Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan

GL: Why is Donald Trump so stupid about global warming?

DWW: There are a lot of reasons. To begin with, he’s not a very curious person, and when he looks out his window he doesn’t see any obvious reason to make big changes. Another important reason is that he is the leader of a political party that has, for a very long time, chosen not to take seriously the science of global warming—in part because the party is supported by some people and businesses that are responsible for that warming. A third reason is that he is really focused on his own self-interest, rather than the well-being of others, and he would rather have the rest of the world clean up the mess created in part by the United States.

It’s important to remember that we are not in the pickle we’re in now just because of Donald Trump, and we’re not in that pickle just because of the Republican party, either. The U.S. is responsible for only a slice of global emissions, and the future of the planet will be shaped by other nations. And while there are parts of the world that are much less stupid about warming—where leaders talk a lot more about climate change than Americans ever have—none of them are behaving much better than the U.S. That’s how big the problem is.

GL: Where is the safest place to live when I’m a grown-up?

DWW: I get asked this question a lot, and it’s a hard one to answer. Most of the world will be safe. The problem is that much of the world will be suffering more than it does now, more than it needs to, because of climate change. There are places to go to avoid that, generally speaking, by moving a little bit north from wherever you are, and a little off the coast. But I hope we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we are so focused on our own safety and health that we don’t pay attention to those elsewhere in the world, many of them suffering even more.

GL: Like my friend Aviva in Key West?

DWW: Unfortunately, Key West is likely to suffer quite a lot, yes. But Aviva will also have enough time to leave. There are parts of the world where leaving will be much harder.

GL: I don’t want to write any more questions. It’s scaring me.

DWW: It’s scary. I get scared. I also get depressed. But sometimes I’m optimistic and exhilarated, too. And this is why: everything remains in our power. If things get really bad, it will be because of what we all choose to do, and what decisions we make, over the next few decades. If we make the right choices, we can end up in a very different place, with a lot less suffering and a lot more happiness. How much suffering we get, and how much happiness, is entirely up to us. That’s empowering, right?

GL: Uh-huh.

A follow-up note from Geronimo’s mother, Emily Raboteau, who is also an Orion contributor:

My son and I have an agreement that we can play hooky three times a school year: once in the fall, once in the winter, and once in the spring, to go do something wonderful in New York City. A few weeks ago, we visited the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. In the midst of the artist’s Tehuana clothing and plaster corsets, Geronimo told me that he wished we could play hooky more often. In simple terms, I explained that a more legitimate reason for him to cut school would be to join the youth climate strike in disrupting the social order with the aim of changing the trajectory of global warming since marginalized, low-income communities of color like ours are impacted first and worst, and since our world leaders are failing to prioritize the crisis.

My son then burst into tears and asked if he was going to die. I realized that he knows more than I understood and is, justifiably, anxious, but also that I was using inappropriately mature language to educate and empower him about the climate crisis.

Because I was reading David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth at the time—a book that has been criticized by some for its alarmist tone—I thought I could help empower and educate my son by putting some of his questions directly to Wells in the form of an interview. Toward that end, my son and I had a series of difficult conversations about the climate crisis incorporating some of Wallace-Wells’ book, the youth climate strike, our global addiction to fossil fuel, U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal, and the reason we gave Geronimo his name.

These were the questions he wanted to ask Wallace-Wells. He has decided that if he joins the protest, his sign will say, MY SUPERPOWER IS TO STOP CLIMATE CHANGE. As his mother, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he doesn’t have that power.

Interview and series curated by Orion Reviews Editor Kerri Arsenault and Digital Strategist Nicholas Triolo.

Nine Questions for the Author: Leonardo Trasande, Author of Sicker, Fatter, Poorer

Here’s a terrifying fact: conservative estimates say that household hormone-disrupting chemicals are costing the US $340 billion annually in healthcare costs. This statistic received the attention of Leonardo Trasande, which led to his latest book, Sicker, Fatter, Poorer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). Here, the internationally renowned leader in environmental health investigates the pervasiveness of dangerous hormone-disrupting chemicals in our everyday lives.

Leonardo Trasande MD, MPP is the Jim G. Hendrick MD Associate Professor, Director of the Division of Environmental Pediatrics and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine. He also serves on the faculty of the NYU Wagner School of Public Service and the NYU College of Global Public Health. Dr. Trasande is an internationally renowned leader in environmental health. His research focuses on the impacts of chemicals on hormones in our bodies.

Orion’s Reviews Editor Kerri Arsenault recently asked Trasande nine questions about the book’s central concerns, environmental health, and what to do about it all.

KA: The “Precautionary Principle” is the European Union’s approach to regulating chemicals, meaning companies have to prove a product safe before it’s distributed. In the US the burden falls on the consumer to prove a chemical unsafe. What can the average citizen do to combat this kind of regulation?

LT: Don’t underestimate the power of the pocketbook or wallet. BPA was banned in baby bottles and sippy cups a decade ago based on much less science than we have now. Consumer concern and media attention fueled industry change – and ultimately industry went to the FDA to insist on a ban. These types of consumer campaigns aren’t perfect – we know BPS and other bisphenols replacing BPA are as estrogenic, toxic to embryos, and persistent in the environment. But it does speak to the opportunity for progress when regulation is waning.

Think about the power of employers, schools, and companies as force multipliers. Two major supermarket chains insisted recently on their providers of food packaging to swap out all buffet containers because they were found to have the thyroid-disrupting perfluoroalkyl acids, the non-stick Teflon-like compounds. That was driven by a study finding these chemicals in five – yes, five – containers. A little data goes a long way.

KA: I read Kate Brown’s Manual for Survival, and she suggests that such catastrophic events like the Chernobyl disaster actually affect us all at some level and the consequences were whitewashed so that nobody really knew what was going on. This was similar to what happened at Love Canal. The long-term uncertainty of what was going on led to traumas like neurosis, hypervigilance, PTSD, non-empirical beliefs, distrust, fear. Did you address the social, cultural, and psychological consequences in your book?

LT: Our estimates of EDC (Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals) costs do not address the pain, suffering, and other consequences associated with diseases due to these chemicals. This again reinforces how conservative an estimate we got – and yet EDCs costs the US $340 billion (2.3% of US GDP) each year.

KA: Doesn’t it boil down to policy and transparency?

LT: Yes. Information about ingredients – from what’s in products to what we know about the effects of these chemicals – starts a discussion about tradeoffs. Without basic information about chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products, researchers can’t even sort out the effects to guide consumers. It’s not as if the basic ingredient composition is so precious that it’s needed to maintain an advantage in the marketplace.

KA: How do you think this kind of injustice affects people from different socioeconomic groups?

LT: We know these exposures disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities. We just published a study in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology finding that African Americans bear nearly 17% of disease burden due to EDCs even though they only comprise just over 12% of the population. Similar disparities also exist for Mexican Americans.

KA: What was the most surprising thing you learned about how toxins affect the body?

LT: The science has accelerated most quickly to suggest chemicals as “obesogens.” The leader here has been Bruce Blumberg at the University of California at Irvine, who has written his own book The Obesogen Effect. There are fifty known obesogens – take BPA, which makes fat cells bigger and is a synthetic estrogen, which means it can have sex-specific effects on growth, especially in puberty. Perfluoroalkylacids have been associated with greater weight regain after weight loss, and it appears to be due to a slower burn rate, literally slowing metabolism down.

KA: A health official in Maine said once that contributing to the state’s high cancer rates are “lower levels of education, high rates of poverty, unemployment, and lack of health insurance.” What do you think of that statement?

LT: It’s an antiquated understanding at best. The World Health Organization conservatively suggests that 23% of deaths worldwide and 22% of lost lifespan are due to environmental factors. And that estimate came before we did our work on endocrine disruptors.

KA: What were your main goals in writing this book?

LT: Roughly 1% of the public knows about hormone disruptors, yet it affects 99% of the population. And the safe and simple steps we can take now to limit exposure aren’t that hard and don’t bust budgets. My goal, above all, is to start a broader dialogue about these issues. I won’t convince everyone, but everyone knows someone affected by one of these conditions that are influenced by chemicals that mess with the endocrine system – obesity, breast cancer, autism, and ADHD, to name a few.

KA: Has your own life changed because of the things you learned and if so, how?

LT: Our kitchen is small like most Manhattan residents, but has been completely transformed over the years. It has much less plastic, no more nonstick surfaces, and a lot more glass.

KA: While your prescriptions offer sage advice on how to reduce toxins in our body, will humans think that’s enough and not push to change policy?

LT: There’s always a place for regulation. That said, I’ve seen from my experience working in the Senate that change comes through opportunities that open and close based upon many factors. And these factors aren’t just political – these issues cut across Democrat and Republican lines. Evangelicals and atheists get these issues, perhaps for different reasons, but we can all get to the same place: lasting solutions for the health of everyone.  

For more, visit Dr. Leo Trasande’s website.