Northern Lights

by Brad Efford

Pock-marked home of tractors
on the highways, emerald and gold—

northern Minnesota preens
in the summer, celebrates its nights'

dramatic chills, the baying of coyotes.
We buy swimsuits extra long, DEET

ourselves just inside the dilapidating screen
door, and step out to gather stones

for polishing in the shallow riverbed—
they glitter dull as unburied gems when

we hold them to the sun. In July,
Moose Lake is still polar-cold, better suited

for arctic terns than long-limbed, sun-
burned boys. We sprint across its pebble

shore to warm up on the way, blood rushing
smart through our bodies, fast enough

to get us to the water. Here we've spent
half our lives scraping dried blood

from old bug bites, crossing the high grass
to the outhouse after midnight, the moon

bear-sized, aurora borealis, though
faint, across the sky—we see ourselves

too much in every fearsome thing.
Bands of colors we thought we knew

before, we know no other way now: fire-pink
and -blue, pale green of dragonfly

wings, orange of the bottoms of our feet.
Fourth-grade skipper. Animal bone

collector. We watched each other grow,
and grew. Sent letters home on old newsprint

and bathed with the door half-cracked
for the steam, posing in the mirror palmed

clean, three hairs apiece sprouting
thin as ripped-out beetle legs

from the concave of our chests. We raced
everywhere—to the barn loft, the dinner

bell, the thin-skinned feral dogs sniffing
clover on the roadside. We bolted

from the kneeling stance, made for
the lake unbound by light, and dove.


Brad Efford was a finalist for Shenandoah's Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets in 2012. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford Magazine, Juked, The Fiddleback, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Hollins University and lives in Richmond, VA.

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