Stone Curls (and other poems)

Stone Curls

Pandemic and all, I’m cutting
my grown son’s hair—outside, late 
on an afternoon in August. 
He sits on a stool wearing 
the black trash bag he’s poked 
his arms through. On the table: electric 
clippers, 2 combs, new scissors—all
the tools. The last time, he was maybe 
10 or 11 years old, and very
particular—liked his head buzzed 
to exact specifications. He’s about to start 
his first professional job online—
no first apartment, not now. It hasn’t 
been intentional, the wild hair—
but he sports curls as plump as any that grace 
the stone heads of Roman emperors. 
Even when he was a toddler, his hair 
grew like this—we called him Hadrian, 
as in the ancient wall in England,
the country where he was born.
My son wants the haircut for the photo 
on his employee badge, though he won’t 
be using one any time soon. Still, 
rules are rules. The breeze is huffing
as I carefully—ever so carefully—nervously—
trim around his tender ears. Then snip 
the furled-up curls on the very top. 
I would like to catch one or two, 
display them the way museums 
along the Roman wall display roof tiles 
and broken tools and such. 
But, agile as feral cats, the curls 
twist to the deck and skitter away—
to wherever it is 
such minor beauty goes. 

Disappearing Arrow

For M.B.

In the beginning, a loon is calling 
where loons rarely call. 
In the beginning, I’m looking 
for the loon—far shore looming,
something swimming away, something 
like a black-headed duck. A June morning,
lost and found—sun barely up, wind 
and glint, chill still in the air. Things 
that are far away seem near, like looking 
through binoculars into the past—here’s
                                                   my Aunt Peggy just yesterday—once 
                                                   such a natty dresser, but she’s come 
                                                   to the memorial for her brother 
                                                   dressed in a sweatshirt with 
                                                   a stain on it. Cheerful, though. Long 
                                                   the keeper of knowledge—family trees, 
                                                   the people in the old pictures (great uncles 
                                                   and aunts, my newborn father in his
                                                   long-dead mother’s arms)—now
                                                   she seems content to not remember.                                                     
The water holds its breath like
a photographer trying to capture
the moment—everything in it at once—
sun, blue sky, pink-streaked clouds,
far off hillocks and houses, a seagull
in flight. Lacking binoculars, I squint 
at the receding duck. Is this the loon 
paddling away? My dear Aunt Peg.
I follow the disappearing arrow 
of her wake.

God Thinks of Everything

She brings the comfy bed
and favorite green blanket. She brings 
a few chicken treats, a clear 
plastic bag of tissues. She even
remembers flowers—blue 
hydrangeas, fluffy as poodles.
Actually—it is her son who thinks 
to bring all that. God’s mind 
is somewhere else, thinking of 
other things. The two of them sit 
on a blanket spread on the grass—isn’t
everything safer in gardens these days?
It’s July, but a chilly breeze blows. 
They are screened from the parking lot
by a green privacy hedge. On the other side, 
a woman chats on her phone—straying,
the stranger glimpses them, and also
the dog covered with the green blanket. 
She scurries away. The tissues 
are put to good use. God holds 
the loved animal’s head in her lap, 
strokes and strokes. As does 
the son. There is a road, 
and cars passing—the woosh
of time. Eventually, the two of them
agree. She makes the call. First, 
she charges it to her credit card.
They put their masks back on.
A stranger wearing scrubs, mask,  
and face shield arrives, a trinity 
of needles in one hand. But she 
is kind. God at all times keeps her hand 
on the warm animal, the expanding 
universe of those ribs—the miracle
of that. She understands that once 
you begin, you cannot stop
until the end. God 
doesn’t believe
in god. Nevertheless, 
she nods her head.

Night Clothes

Late July—I wake
to the rising sun caught 
in the horizon’s trees 
like a yolk trying to break 
from its white. Didn’t
the ancients also bury their pets? 
A robin sips from the bird bath—
tips its head back 
to swallow. Sips again. 
Slips into water fresh 
from the tap—splashes  
and splashes. The joy
in that. A cold pond 
on a hot day, the cool, clean, 
breathing, playful body;
years ago, my son
rolling on the kitchen floor 
with his puppy. The robins 
usually are busy on the lawn 
by now. Is it too early 
for worms? 4 feet under, 
a few yards away, lies our dog—
10 days beneath 
the tamped-down dirt, 
a layer of protective stones, 
more dirt, 
armfuls of blue hydrangeas, 
thin walls of a white cardboard coffin. 
My grown son searched 
on his phone for the perfect 
depth. Dug much of it—
was down so deep that when he 
hunched over, only the tip 
of the shovel’s handle 
moved. I don’t believe 
in the afterlife. Nor does he, 
I think. Still, we buried her
with treats and kibble
and our night clothes—
their musky scent.


  • Jennifer Stewart Miller was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Vermont and California. She holds an MFA from Bennington College, a JD from Columbia University, and a BA from Michigan State University. Her book Thief won the 2020 Grayson Books Poetry Prize. Miller is also the author of A Fox Appears: A Biography of a Boy in Haiku (2015) and a chapbook, The Strangers Burial Ground (Seven Kitchens Press 2020). Her poems have appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Poet Lore, RHINO, Sugar House Review, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere.

  • These photographs come from the pages of The South Pole; an account of the Norwegian Antarctic expedition in the "Fram," 1910-1912, Roald Amundsen's account of his expedition which became the first to reach the South Pole on 14 December 1911, just five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert Falcon Scott. From Public Domain Review.