The sky is a stone-cold blue, a late-summer blue.
In the North Country, there are blues so perfect
you want to tear your heart out to be alive
and sober. And the cheerleaders of Eveleth High
are stamping their feet in the cinders, wearing
flip-flops, pumps, tennis shoes, sandals.
They maintain a businesslike, a gum-chewing calm
as they rehearse the difficult moves, like the toss,
which must be perfect, and the even more difficult catch—
with a strength not in their arms, which are slender, and not
in their conditioning, which is nonexistent. I don’t
blame them. Last night was a good one to spend
on the lakes with their friends and a case of beer.
Those lakes, some glacial, some quarried out.
Those lakes in the North Country, that perfect sky—
it’s enough to make you get sober or try
or cry. But when Shelly Jongewaard flies in the air,
she knows that whatever else in the rest of her life
could go wrong, and probably will, the arms
of those girls from Eveleth High will always
be there, under the stone cold blue of the sky,
locked in a basket to catch her.
David Salner worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, steelworker, and general laborer. His writing has appeared in Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, River Styx, and many other magazines. An earlier version of “Cheerleaders” appeared in Southern Humanities Review. His third book is Blue Morning Light and features poems on the paintings of American artist George Bellows. He has an MFA degree from the University of Iowa.