Slowest Member on the Junior Varsity

by Michael Miller

Michael Miller

The first to arrive when the sleepy-eyed coach
grunts good morning and undoes the rusty lock,
he starts each day facing the water alone—

the shimmering skin over the cold deep end
holding the calm of sunrise before his mind
bellows start. He plunges in to tame the water

before the water tames him back—cutting meat
and treading at the Y each weekend only keeping
the pounds in place. On the deck stool with

his fake leg stretched before him, the coach rasps
his creeds from the Navy. There’s standing tough
and moving tough, he tells them. Whichever one’s

tougher, that’s what you do. On the cold mornings,
the slowest tries standing tough, his feet buckled
in at the water’s edge and every still joint its own

heady fix. When he moves, he moves to reach
the finish line. The team is mired in last, not quailing
from the season’s end the only victory left. All around,

hungry, he eyes the greater meets: the varsity team
that shreds the water twice as fast, the seniors’ cars
and flaunted car keys. Is every test decided

by the one before? Do the mind, the joints ever forget?
He stares down the water, his body cold and primed
for the tournament, finals, anything assigned.

The First Thing Mastered

Last updated March 20, 2023