Poetry Sunday: ‘The Boston Soak,’ by Mary Meriam

The Boston Soak

She shovels the snow from her drive
then takes her Sunday bath.
What does she know that I don’t know?
she wonders in her long soaking bath.
She does make me laugh.
How far would I have to drive?
She splashes and slides in her bath
forgetting what she knows or doesn’t know.
Her own skin belongs to her
and hot bubbles, there is no drive,
it’s only love, and love is like water
unencumbered by “he” or “she.”
One last slosh of soaked loofah,
and she steps out of the bath.
Down the drain goes the water,
where it ends, she doesn’t know.
Perhaps in the snow on her drive.


First published in SN Review, reprinted in Girlie Calendar (Headmistress Press 2014) with permission of the press. Calendar Girl is part of The Lillian Trilogy, which can be ordered at Amazon.com.

Meriam book cover_The Lillian Trilogy_1-14-16

Mary Meriam advocates for the right of women to love each other in their poetry and art, and strives to give their work a place at the table, even if it’s only a table of her own creation. She writes about and publishes such work in the journal she founded, Lavender Review, at the press she cofounded, Headmistress Press, and at Ms. Magazine, The Critical Flame, and The Gay & Lesbian Review. Her poetry collections, The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet’s Zodiac, The Lillian Trilogy, and Lady of the Moon, honor a cosmos of strong, creative women. Her first full-length collection, Conjuring My Leafy Muse, was nominated for the Poets’ Prize. Her poems have appeared in 12 anthologies, most recently, Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters (Penguin Random House, 2015) and many publications, including Literary Imagination, American Life in Poetry, Cimarron Review, Rattle, and The New York Times. Her website is marymeriam.blogspot.com


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Poet’s Note

A poet friend wrote me that when she finished shoveling her drive, she took a hot bath. I see in my notes that I was reading Carol Ann Duffy and John Donne when I wrote the first draft (my very first sestina attempt) in February, 2006. When I revised it in 2008, I’d recently pasted quotes in my notes from Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Every word was once a poem”), Clive James (“in the direction of nowhere”), and Basil Bunting (“There is no need of any theory for what gives pleasure through the ear, music or poetry).


Notes on “The Boston Soak

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

“The Boston Soak” opens with a first-person speaker who, having just finished shoveling her driveway, is luxuriating in the tub and contemplating a drive to visit a love interest, never named but only identified as “she.” What do we know about the beloved? First that she, like the poem’s speaker, is a woman. Second, that she lives somewhere within driving distance from Boston (where the bath takes place) and third that the “I” is mystified and somewhat fascinated by her (“What does she know that I don’t know?”).

What fascinates me about this poem is its uniquely patterned sound repetitions. One example is the way it uses repeated words in place of rhyme both at the ends of and within lines. The repeated end words are “drive,” “bath,” “know,” and “water,” in a nonce form (invented by the author) that I see from her notes is a variation on the sestina. The pattern exhibits ring construction, with the poem’s first and last lines ending on the same word (“drive”) and can be diagrammed the same way we diagram a rhyme scheme, as follows: abcbdabceafghbfca. (For the curious, a sestina exhibits the following pattern of repeated words in its 39 lines:  abcdef faebdc cfdabe ecbfad deacfb bdfeca eb cd af.) The words repeated within lines are “know” in line 3, and “love” in line 11. Those in-line repetitions encourage readers to ponder questions of how we can and whether we need even attempt to know love. The answer the poem seems to give is no, love being fluid and mysterious as “water” and “unencumbered” by technicalities like gendered pronouns.

The meter, fairly regular tetrameter awarding four beats per line, reinforces the overall sense of a poem in form, as do other conventional repetitions of sound: in-line consonance (the onomatopoeic “splashes” and “slides” and “slosh” and “soaked” in lines 7 and 13), slant rhyme (“own skin” in line 9) and repetitions of sound across lines. The most significant of these is “she” occurring nine times and the “her” occurring seven times for 16 total instances of the female third person pronoun or its possessive form, remarkable in a poem of 17 lines. It’s even more remarkable when contrasted with the incidence of other pronouns in the poem:  first person pronouns appear just three times (“I” twice and “me” once in line 3-6) and the masculine third person pronoun appears only once (“he” in line 12). The predominance of the female third person signals that gender is important and that the poet wants to make clear that the love relationship is one between women. Read More »

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  • Karen Royce March 16, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Thank you. Great discussion of a beautiful poem and I learned about the sestina form for the first time.