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

The tension in the poem comes from the three affirmations/denials of what the speaker or her lover know and do not know and also from the speaker (and reader) wondering whether the speaker is going to get in her car and make that drive. Another source of tension is structural and has been alluded to above: the way the poem tends towards but then undercuts form. On the one hand, we hear and sense a pattern of end-word repetition; on the other, it does not follow a fixed form we recognize. In a similar way we discern a predominant tetrameter, but some lines (1, 2, 5-7, 9 and 14) also scan as trimeter. The resistance to follow (the poem’s insistence on being its own) form mirrors the speaker’s assertion that “Her own skin belongs to her” (line 9). That line occurs almost exactly halfway through the poem, and its redundancy seems deliberate, as if to underscore the point that no one owns this speaker’s body except herself and, by extension, whether or not to visit the beloved will be a free, not coerced, choice. 

As mentioned above, another source of tension occurs in the repeated equivocations about knowing and not knowing. We first encounter this in line 3, when the speaker, thinking about the one she longs for, wonders: “What does she know that I don’t know?” We see it again in line 8 when the speaker is lost in the luxury of the bath and for the moment “forgetting what she knows or doesn’t know,” a doubled amnesia, with the speaker forgetting both what she herself does and does not know and also forgetting to worry about what the beloved knows or does not know. The last instance of equivocation is in the penultimate line: “where it ends, she doesn’t know.”

Are the tensions resolved? Sort of. We never learn what it is that the lover might know that the speaker does not, but we do ultimately learn that the answer does not matter. The speaker decides to forgo the inquiry in favor of sensation, enjoying her bath. That, together with the realization that “love is like water / unencumbered” by gender paves the way for privileging feeling over thought and heart over head.

So, does she make the drive, or doesn’t she? The poem’s last line allows for at least two distinct interpretations, depending on the meaning we assign to the last word, “drive.” If “drive” refers (as it did in line 1) to the speaker’s driveway, then the “it” of the previous line refers back to the water, and we are made to understand that the water runs down the drain and perhaps ends up in (or ultimately as) the snow on the driveway. But another, more interesting interpretation is possible: “drive” in line 17 can also refer to the speaker’s drive (in the car) to visit her love interest. In that case, I suppose that the “it” could still have water as its antecedent and be saying that the bath water may end up in the snow seen along the road from Boston. But “it” may instead refer to a potential relationship, an entanglement with the woman the speaker is daydreaming about in the tub and her delicious discovery in lines 10-12, that “it’s only love, and love is like water /  unencumbered by ‘he’ or ‘she.’” We are left in the end in a tantalizing state of unknowing, but one in which the woman speaker has agency and is joyous and free.   



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Paradise Drive book coverRebecca Foust’s fifth book, “Paradise Drive,” won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and was reviewed in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the 2015 American Literary Review Award for Fiction, the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2014 Constance Rook Creative Nonfiction Award, and fellowships from the Frost Place, MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and West Chester Poetry Conference. “Paradise Drive” can be ordered at www.press53.com. For more information visit rebeccafoust.com.


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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.