My city

Retreating from the too much of New York City only to come back for more again and again.

©Erica Cirino. NYC spring 2017.

©Erica Cirino. NYC spring 2017.

In the springtime

I like to visit the country

Where the grass in the field

Grows green and golden.

It’s the place I go when

I can no longer bear

The city; grey and gritty

Sometimes feels like too much.

Too much brick,

Too much cement,

Too much asphalt

Driven on my too many cars,

Too much rebar

Holding up too-tall buildings

Where too many people work

Too long, tedious days.

Yet, despite the allure of all

That is quiet and simple

In the field,

I always come back

As faithful as the spring grass

To this city,

My city,

Where too much

Never feels like enough.

Originally posted to Medium on May 2, 2017.

Oil Well Erupts

A poem for the 7th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Photo by John Lester. Oil-soaked wave in Alabama, June 2010. (Flickr)

Photo by John Lester. Oil-soaked wave in Alabama, June 2010. (Flickr)

“It’s far away,”

They say,

At first,

Down on the bottom

Where no light can reach,

“Everything is under control.”

Yet what’s happening on the seabed

Is a different story,

There the truth is obscured

By an unfathomable heaviness,

A slick, thick crimson ink

Swirling up from the depths.

Traveling through the sea,

Higher and higher,

Until it erupts at the surface

And feels the breeze,

And creeps menacingly across

Miles and miles of ocean.

“Ok, we see it,”

They say,

“But don’t fuss,”

They tell us.

“We’ll fix it,”

Then some of the oil ignites,

Some washes to shore,

Some entraps animals

In its sticky hold:

An almost certain death sentence.

Two months later,

Down on the bottom

Where we can’t see,

The slippery oil

Continues to pour

Up and out,

It swirls

Throughout the water

And to the surface,

Where it reveals 

More and more of itself.

Again, “We’ll fix it,”

They say,

Although blinded

By power and greed,

By this ecological hell,

“We’ll fix it,”

They say,

“This leaking oil well.”

Originally posted to Medium on April 20, 2017.

Looking for birds and plastic in Denmark

Reflecting on my recent research trip to Copenhagen

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian magpie. 

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian magpie. 

People who love birds look for birds wherever they go. I happen to be one of those people. 

When I recently took a trip to Denmark, early morning bird watching with my Alaskan malamute dog became one of the most pleasurable parts of my daily routine. We’d walk from our fifth-floor apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro neighborhood down and around the three manmade lakes that run through the heart of the city. Because where there is water, one will often find birds.

©Erica Cirino. Sortedams Sø, one of the three lakes that run through the heart of Copenhagen. 

©Erica Cirino. Sortedams Sø, one of the three lakes that run through the heart of Copenhagen. 

©Erica Cirino. Foosa, my birdwatching buddy.

©Erica Cirino. Foosa, my birdwatching buddy.

And we did see birds, my dog and I. They belonged to an interesting array of species: hooded crows, Eurasian magpies, mute swans, mallards, pigeons, great blue herons, Eurasian coots, great cormorants, black-headed gulls, red-necked grebes….

©Erica Cirino. Black-headed gulls. 

©Erica Cirino. Black-headed gulls. 

©Erica Cirino. Male mallard duck. 

©Erica Cirino. Male mallard duck. 

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian coots.

©Erica Cirino. Eurasian coots.

Seeing so many birds in one small urban environment was heartening. But the birds’ habitat itself wasn’t always pretty. The lakes in Denmark — like many water bodies all over the world — are filled with plastic. Some of it is thrown there intentionally, while the rest blows in off roads and out of trashcans.

On more than one occasion I watched plastic bags — just out of my reach — blow across the water’s surface past the many birds that floated there. A lot of the bags, and other plastic trash — like water bottles, balloons and children’s toys — sank to the bottom of the lakes, right where many of the water birds dive and dabble. Research on plastic suggests bottom-feeding organisms are ingesting the stuff — so there’s little reason to believe the birds I’m seeing aren’t scooping some of it up.

©Erica Cirino. Mute swan in trash-filled water. 

©Erica Cirino. Mute swan in trash-filled water. 

©Erica Cirino. Close-up of trash (mostly plastic) next to mute swan. 

©Erica Cirino. Close-up of trash (mostly plastic) next to mute swan. 

There is a big political push now in Denmark to combat plastic pollution. SF, a left-wing political party just introduced a new bill that would help do that. Pro-environment nonprofits and non-governmental organizations such as the Danish Ecological Council are pushing for it to become law.

According to the Danish scientists I met with, one newly identified source of plastic pollution is plastic microfiber found in clothing. This microfiber can be found in wastewater sludge, which is used to fertilize crops — from which plastic is probably being washed off by rain back into the oceans and other water bodies. To limit this type of plastic pollution, scientists say plastic-free clothing as well as upgraded sewage and sewage treatment technologies are needed.

So, while plastic is now getting a lot of political attention in Denmark and other parts of the world, only our own actions can prevent pollution. And scientists say that means we need to use less or no plastic, and if we do use it we must take care to dispose of it properly or take measures to ensure it doesn’t end up in natural ecosystems.

Until we do these things, we can expect to see plastic collecting quite unnaturally amongst the birds and other wild creatures — where it should not be.


Erica Cirino is a freelance science writer and artist based in New York, who is traveling the world to bear witness to plastic pollution and meet with plastic experts. She’s currently giving and scheduling presentations about her findings as part of her Go and See Tour: A Discussion About Plastic Pollution at high schools, colleges and public places. She is the recipient of a 2017 Safina Center Kalpana Launchpad Fellowship, which is helping support this project. 

Originally posted to the Safina Center Blog on March 28, 2017.