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The Great Molasses Flood

A 50-foot wave of molasses—2,300,000 gallons of it—released in some manner yet unexplained, from a giant tank, swept over Commercial street and its waterfront from Charter street to the southerly end of North End park yesterday afternoon.  

– The Boston Post, 1919


With Prohibition on the horizon
and the demand for rum about to take off
no one could convince the supervisor

that the structure of his tank was unsafe
or what would happen if it did combust –
twenty-one dead under fifty-foot waves.

It’s hard to imagine something so viscous
and laggard on the spoon lifting trains,
flooding alleyways and drowning horses –

like the timid neighbor who ups and trades
suburban life for a Swedish au pair,
leaves some rushed note about the constraints

of his job. I guess we could blame the affair
and the tank’s collapse on the need for more screws,
but such logic, though clever enough, offers

too simple an answer – unless, of course,
when we say screws we really mean bolts.
Bolt, after all, means both to tightly secure

and spring suddenly – and anyone who’s felt
locked down by the thick of their daily grind
must know that need to go nuts and bolt.

But it’s not just some convenient punch line,
(The Great Molasses Floodvut a tidal!)
I have spent my life straddling the line

between feeling engaged and feeling bridled,
and bolt is proof that the two can share
a single body, meet in the middle –

though even then, I’ve learned, more layers
reveal themselves like Russian nesting dolls –
insides turn into outsides, beasts become lairs

to bellies, bellies to parietal cells.
And it’s all so unreliable – pin down
one truth and out pours a flood of reversals.

Yet we keep digging, confident that we’re bound
to reach some center – no longer sure, though,
if by bound we mean certain. Or tied down.

Or, perhaps, even leap away.

  1. Beebe on

    What a clever poem pulling the rug out from under us with swift changes and revelation. B

  2. Dzvinia orlowsky on

    Ben, a terrific poem- wise, funny, grounded, spontaneous, — Reading Bermanwith McHugh, Jeff Friedman is a good recipe for a very pleasant evening. I remain a loyal fan!

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