Monday, 17 Jun 2019

My Spiral Valentine, 2014

Joel Long 

The dogs are twin stars, furred, spinning around spinning. They run down the hill to the jetty five times before I reach the bottom, weaving through basalt boulders and dry clumps of rabbit brush and sage. By the time I am finally down the hill, Stella, an Australian shepherd/border collie, Wyoming meth mutt has found a dead thing, a gull matted into grasses and weeds, feathers the blended color of the grasses. The dog rolls in the crater of the gull’s body. She pushes into scent, trying to become it, then steps away into tracks of the jetty, perfumed with musk, smiling her giddy clown smile.

Staggered with love loss, I drove this morning to Rozel Point to walk Spiral Jetty with my dogs. The golden retriever Winston, troubled by the washboard road, ended the drive by squeezing through the gate in the back of the Subaru and tumbling into the front seat, his tongue waving and one paw in my lap. My hand on his shoulder kept the rest of his ninety-pound body from pouring into my lap while I negotiated the gravel road, catching first sight of the lake—a shard of sapphire settled in gold, shadowed hills, flattened map of the earth, shimmering.

Now, Winston works in tandem with Stella, measuring the Spiral Jetty with an old dog’s sprint and undulation, arabesques of blond fur and tongue wagging, caramel nose smelling the world he will leave too soon. Stella zips around him like a wild, speeding kite. I have always loved the jetty itself but found its purpose to spin us toward the flats beyond it, where the lake hovers in a thin sheet of light at the horizon. The dogs and I walk crackling salt, hard white crystal infused with peach and blush toward that light.

The crystalline floor takes the sheen of water. It begins to reflect the sky a hundred yards from the lake itself. Water fills each fissure and indentation, water a half inch shallow, beginning to absorb color and depth of the sky. I take off my shoes and socks, my feet negotiating jagged salt until the water deepens and salt turns soft. It is February, but sunlight makes the cold bearable. A little more water, then a snowdrift of salt rises, flanking the flat shore like blown silk.

I step into it, walk in its billow, feet sinking in salt and water like snow but warm as the air. The dogs walk in front of me, woven counterpoint to white salt drifts contoured with a spectrum from coffee to amber, pale shell pink overtaken by blue sky mirrored. White sunlight makes whole mountains disappear twice. Both dogs walk that way toward what I cannot see. Stella lies down in salt, dangling her feet in coffee color and orange. Her body curls along the curl of salt, her own markings wrapping her body, sfumato teak to oak, white snout, black nose, magpie blue-black. In motion, Stella seems to run on water, little Jesus dog miracle. Then, she lies down, rests, one white paw with sleeves of tan fur over the other.

I look away from the sun. Golden Winston stands, honey chest and heart pushing toward tawny hills of Rozel Point stippled in black rust rock, weighed down by blue clouds. Stella sits before him, a bowl of fur and teeth and tail and pleasure.

This moment, the three of us are perfect.

Loss fills in with light and color. The golden dog is alive; he can run; he can roll in salt and dirt, open his mouth wide to the air. Less than two years, he will be gone. I cannot weep except for light, except radiant fur and the huffing of two dogs who follow me, who lead me. These dogs, my pole stars, slip through blur between the palpable and its ethereal reflection. They give depth to the distance of the lake. They pull my own heart toward that blue horizon, shaking sorrow away, shaking away the sorrow to come. Here, I understand the shape of beauty, the breadth and transience of it, and how small sorrow like mine disappears in pink salt and water, the powder breath, blue, this gift of lake water and the hand that holds it.


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 Frost were 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.

Photos by author.