“Making Silent Stones Speak,” “Cracking the Code” and “When Jeannette MacDonald Reigned in the Kitchen”

“Making Silent Stones Speak,” “Cracking the Code” and “When Jeannette MacDonald Reigned in the Kitchen”

“Making Silent Stones Speak,” “Cracking the Code” and “When Jeannette MacDonald Reigned in the Kitchen”


Making Silent Stones Speak



Picture Rocks Canyon: Paisley

scarlet bandana caught on gray thornbush

sprouting from naked rock. Lavender-

blooming ironwood, swift

zebra-tailed lizards and always

the cactus wrens for company.




If you sit

where basalt layers first enter

the canyon, clear your mind, focus

on nothing, you'll discover

a faint figure pecked

in black patina: Elongated

body, arms upraised, feet planted firmly

on nothing

but groundmass. Nearby,


inscribed on

other smooth outcrops, circles

and loops, squares and rectangles: Messages left

by archaic writers. How many hundred times

have you trudged by

without stopping, intent

on completing the loop trail–a metaphorical

circle beginning and ending

in your room?




Note to self: If it is the journey

that matters and not

the arbitrary destination, then remember

the magic in this impromptu stop.

And before you leave place your hand

on the petroglyphs, acknowledge

the spark leaping artist to artist and making

silent stones speak.

Cracking the Code


Starting out, hard pavement consumes

wishes and hopes—polarizes, compresses

emotion: Too little time to make space

for us. Too little time

to make changes. The burning

tragedy of too little time.


Itinerant workers prune

our old willow, revealing boles bending

in opposite directions: north toward

the mountains, south toward the light.


The gardener pontificates,

arms waving. One plant thrives. Another

dies. It's all about

roots: shoving between pebbles, cobbles,

boulders and sand, poking, prying, reaching, gripping,

sucking moisture, thrusting caliche aside, leaching

precious nutrients from clay and rock. Interstices

yield wiggle room–tiny hairs, sensitive

as mole whiskers, send coded messages to probing

root tip and anchor elegant saguaro standing, arms uplifted

to sun and stars, to air and rain, tomorrow

and today–unflinching. It's about roots.


I lock the door on the double-dreaming

past, on flashy simplicity, aloof

contemporary fare, temporary decor damnably

full of faux everything–

a single row of pictures and understated

wallpaper in a sky-lit room, subliminally

pandering to the adolescent sexuality

in time-worn allegories. Locking the door's

a grassroots movement that leaves no trace.

Action creates uneasiness, but who doesn't love

the raw power, the erotic asymmetry

of starting over?

When Jeanette MacDonald Reigned in the Kitchen

A winter evening in '62.

My sister, sixteen–the trailing edge

of innocence–dawdles

over dishwashing, knit sleeves pushed up, lifts

a handful of bubbles from the sink

and sends them soaring

on drifts of song: "O sweet mystery

of life at last I've found you."

About the Author

Susan Cummins Miller

Tucson writer SUSAN CUMMINS MILLER, a former field geologist and college instructor, has published six novels and an anthology containing the works of 34 women writers of the American frontier. Her poems, short stories, and essays appear frequently in journals and anthologies, including the forthcoming Without a Doubt: poems illustrating faith and So West: Love Kills. Two poetry collections, Making Silent Stones Sing and Deciphering the Desert: a book of poems, are forthcoming from Finishing Line Press (2022; 2023).

Read more work by Susan Cummins Miller.