The Orange Blues (and other poems)

The Orange Blues

               With a few words drawn from “Ghazal of Oranges,” by Jan-Henry Gray,
                                            and all the oranges changed to blues. 

I know well
the faraway scent of blues,

know the exact shade
of warning blue, am still 

astonished by the strange fruits 
in my wheelbarrow full of blues. 

I have packed roomy
wicker baskets with blues,

or mostly blues—
mandarin blue,

this crop of blues,
expensive blues,

messy blues,
blood[y] blues.

Those days, months,
years, peeling blues …

I still love all the orange 
blues: azure, indigo, 
lapis lazuli, periwinkle, peacock,
midnight, Nile, electric, 

Prussian, Wedgewood, navy, 
sapphire, sky… 

But not cobalt, not 
cyan or cerulean—I’m 

done with cold. 
And I’ve squeezed 

every last drop of juice 
out of steel and pewter.

Fistfuls of Green

Scrub pine—not a tree anyone wants 
to plant, but a runty one, a scrapper 

scrabbling out of miserable soil, windswept 
coastal lands. The kind of tree that 

even when young tends to be gnarled, if maybe 
a little beautiful in moonlight. A paltry 

shade maker. Pugilist. Porcupine. Thrusting 
fistfuls of green into the needling wind. 

A tree in which a starling preens his black. 
Backbreaking work, to endure 

in scrub lands—gripping the sandy earth, maybe 
over a lifetime making the dirt a tad less poor. 

Come spring, its seed cones have gone grey,
plain enough beauty for even the old Puritans,

that ancestral branch that tugs at my roots—
a faint guilt at the occasional scarlet-painted toes

or choice of wine over milk. 
But if you are pine, you don’t grieve overmuch 

about what can’t be helped—ancestors, bad soil,
whether you have the spine to be scrub—

you are here to impede the wind, you are here
to take your time. 

Black Bears

It’s true—sometimes I’ve envied 
other people’s poems, their burn, 
their glow. And maybe I’m not alone.
But after seeing first images 
from the Webb telescope—a single
rice grain of our universe!—
how to envy now? All those 
whirling galaxies going back 
and back and back. Astronomers 
will argue which is oldest, closest 
to the very beginning—the Big Bang, 
that 13-point-something billion-year 
expansion—a peacock’s tail 
infinitely un-pleating, 
an origami’d telescope 
unfolding on and on…
A poem can break your heart—
like one called “Tinder,”
about a bear whose paws 
are charred in one of our 
forest fires, a poem in which lines 
flick on like stars—a sonnet line 
by line igniting. A galaxy in a bear
crawling out of a fire, 
a bear that must be put to death—
the black hole at the heart 
of every life, maybe every 
congregation of stars.
Now that we’ve looked through
that great golden eye floating 
a million miles away, 
now that we’ve seen—if this
universe were lit with only thousands, 
or even billions, of stars, 
how lonely that would seem. 
O astronomers, O 
other people’s poems, bring me 
your galaxies, your black bears.


  • 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.

  • Stills from Sunset Boulevard, 1950, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. Director of Photography: John F. Seitz. Production Design: Hans Dreier & John Meehan. Costume Design: Edith Head