The Water Was Very Cold Today

And we were in it for a pretty long time

Sarah Miller


Mergansers. Basically a duck. Photo: Molly Fisk

I swim with this one person all the time. She is ten years older than me, fourteen if you’re counting, and I think people mostly are. She grew up in San Francisco and Marin, notice I did not say the Bay Area, because I find that term almost worthless. Anyway, she’s a Northern Californian for sure, but her parents were from the east coast, so she understands me, which is a nice way of saying she thinks it’s funny the way I am a jerk. She is a writer, mostly of poetry, and is very famous in our town. Even at the lake, where it is my strong feeling people should be occupied with either getting ready to swim, swimming, or toweling off, people are always gunning to talk to her.

Many of them are nice enough to me, but some regard me as a kind of pest. “Who are you to have captured this woman’s attention?” is a vibe I can get. Sometimes I stare people down. “We’re trying to swim here, stop asking questions about poetry, a genre I can barely tolerate,” is the vibe I try to give off in these situations, and I think I do it well.

My friend writes pretty good poems, but they’re still poems. I like prose much better, and once we have gotten ourselves into the horribly cold water, and stopped swearing about how cold it is, I try to gently steer her toward producing more of it.

“Do you have any goals for the summer?” someone asked me earnestly back in June.

“Yes to get my friend who is a poet to start writing more essays,” I said irritably, thinking of stanzas, and how superior paragraphs are.

“Yes but what about goals for you?” the person asked. “What are your goals?

“This is a pandemic,” I told them. “Not a career fair.”

My swimming friend is obsessed with trees and birds—in other words, a poet. “Look at that crazy tree over there,” she said yesterday. “Look at that lone dying tree among all the live ones.”

“Huh,” I said. I looked in the general direction but I didn’t see anything special. Poets are always just making things up —everyone knows this.

We swam some more.

“Is that a Canadian goose?” I asked about some bird that flew by.



Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller is a writer living in Northern California.