Definition: The color between green and orange


Chicken-hearted, craven, cowardly, faint-hearted, fearful, lily-livered, spiritless, spineless, timid, trembling, quaking, unheroic. 


Miners carried caged canaries into the sooty tunnels deep below the Appalachian Mountains—sacrifices to the gods of labor, money-lust, liquid greed. Carbon monoxide kills the canaries first, a call to clear, to flee, to fly away from the hole in the earth, from the noxious fumes and dust that settles into pores, nostrils, alveoli. 

The ebony crumbles clung to my father’s grandfather’s hands, formed a ring around his neck, blackened his lungs, silenced his heart. The exhaustion and daily drudgery broke my mother’s grandfather’s back, leaving him unable to mine, perhaps preserving his life. 

Male canaries develop elaborate songs. Loners by nature, they’re more apt to croon when isolated, surrounded by nothingness. Their voices vary—the Spanish Timbrado sings of church bells at noon; the Harz Roller’s croon is soft, rolling. Belgian Waterslager’s chant is percussive, echoing. 

The birds’ rapid rate of breathing, little lungs, mighty metabolisms made them perfect air-testers. In the deepest darkness they sang, chimed, yodled, and beat-boxed, belted out bubbling melodies, then—suddenly ceased. 

Describe them, miners and canaries, as doomed, ill-fated, damned, as brave, plucky, unflinching, as lemon, amber, golden—anything but yellow. 

Bethany Jarmul

3 Questions for Bethany

What was your process for creating this work?

For: "Lion's Tooth in the Wind"

I knew I wanted to write about the season of infertility in my life, but I wasn't sure how to do it. When I sat down to write this piece, I was a mother of two and honestly, I wasn't sure if this story was still mine to tell. However, my writing group encouraged me to go for it. Once I started writing the essay, I realized that the theme of the essay was about learning to accept what I could not control. That theme was something that I could share with readers, even though I was no longer struggling with infertility. Then, I felt confident to dive in and write the essay!

For: "Definition: The color between green and orange"

I wrote this piece in response to a prompt to write about "yellow." I started thinking about how yellow can have a negative connotation. Yellow also made me think of canaries. So those two ideas became the impetus for this piece.

What is the significance of the form you chose?

For: "Lion's Tooth in the Wind"

I didn't want to simply tell my story in a straightforward way. I wanted to add another layer by creating a braided essay with something about nature. But what to use? As I was wrestling with the essay, I had the experience of teaching my toddler son how to blow dandelion seeds. At that moment, I knew that dandelions were the perfect metaphor for me to use for the essay. I wrote the essay first, then later drew the dandelion life cycle. It was a way to continue wrestling with the topic, even after the essay was written.

For: "Definition: The color between green and orange"

Using a unique "hermit crab" form adds another layer of interest to the piece, and it's just fun! I think writing this piece in the form of a dictionary entry, but not revealing the word until the end allows the reader to guess what this is all about, then discover whether they were correct or not.

What is the significance of this work to you?

For: "Lion's Tooth in the Wind"

I hope that readers enjoy the lyric language of the piece, and that they too consider in which areas they need to release control of their lives.

For: "Definition: The color between green and orange"

When I started writing this, I didn't know I was going to bring in facts from my life, my ancestors. I didn't know it was going to end up as nonfiction. But the thought arose as I was writing about yellow, and it just worked. The piece started as just fun playing with "yellow," but it ended up delivering a powerful message as well.

Bethany Jarmul is a writer, editor, and poet. Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and been nominated for Best of the Net. She earned first place in Women On Writing's Q2 2022 essay contest. Bethany enjoys chai lattes, nature walks, and memoirs. She lives near Pittsburgh with her family. Connect with her at or on Twitter: @BethanyJarmul.

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