by Joel Long
CORAL PINK SAND DUNES
for Peter Hayes
The light tells us we are losing. Everything
beautiful tells us. We sit in canvas chairs, tired day,
seventy freshmen milling. We are tired,
dunes, tired, the way things that aren’t alive
are tired, endless, slipping away in the brilliant
fading day, pink, apricot, salmon, brown.
Canopied in junipers, pinyons, and sage,
we drink lemonade from plastic cups,
luxury, fuller moon raising red cliffs,
crenelated pines. You bring gifts for teachers,
hats, flashlights, headlamps to help us
see the dark, water bottles for thirst you know
will come tonight. You engraved our names, year,
each one travelled with you. We stow them
someplace we will not forget, and you sit
with full knowledge the world moves around you.
Students wander camp twilight, plant presses,
plucking the desert dozen they know in their hearts
past the time you will breathe in the world, cottonwood,
juniper, virgin bower with see-through skirts, artemsia tridentata,
quercus gambelii, castilleja chromosa. Two kids throw
a football;, see you, know keep quiet, shhh, shhh—
others want no racket in camp. They know later,
you will take them into night, lift stones
heavy as you, show what dark can show,
filament scorpions under stone, illumined,
star-green in mauve, claws, telson preened for the sting.
Late, you turn the flashlight upward to stars, scattering
dust, glitter, road with cattle guard, rabbit brush,
yucca rays cutting deep blue into black.
We barely keep our feet on ground for this rush
of stars and space behind the stars too quiet, shhh. You tell
Andromeda’s story, Orion, sword and scorpion,
half-moon smudging stars with shine as it pulls
our eyes, half heavens opening every form
the mind imagines, mantis, dolphin, bear, Sagittarius,
teapot lifting steam to the mouth of a man, star milk
feeding him, feeding you, what breaths the cosmos—
miserly infinite—allows, and when you click
the lamp off, nothing but stars: space blooming
time and being, and the light tells us again
what we’ve lost, why losing matters, this time,
how to pay attention, how to work and learn.
Peter Hayes taught at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s upper school for eighteen years. During that time, he led the 9th grade trip to Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Angel Canyon near Kanab, Utah. Hayes retired after he was diagnosed with IPF, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The disease took his life less than two years later.
Joel Long’s book Winged Insects won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. His books Lessons in Disappearance and Knowing Time by Light were published by Blaine Creek Press in 2010. His chapbooks, Chopin’s Preludes and Saffron Beneath Every Frostwere published from Elik Press. His poems have appeared in Interim, Gulf Coast, Rhino, Bitter Oleander, Crab Orchard Review,Bellingham Review, Sou'wester, Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, The Pinch, Quarterly West, and Seattle Review and anthologized in American Poetry: the Next Generation, Essential Love, Fresh Water, and I Go to the Ruined Place:Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights.