In the slender action of the twenty-one lines that make up “The One Girl at the Boys Party,” Olds combines three patterns of imagery that underscore the speaker’s recognition of her daughter’s approaching maturity. In the poem, the speaker (that this is the mother is never explicitly stated) takes the girl, a superior math student, to a swimming party where boys immediately surround her. The speaker sees the young people dive into the pool and imagines her daughter working math problems in her head to calculate her relationship to the diving board and the gallons of water in the pool. The girl’s suit has a pattern of hamburgers and french fries printed on it, and when she climbs from the pool, her ponytail will hang wet down her back. The speaker knows that as the girl looks at the boys, she will be recognizing the appeal of their masculinity.
One element of the poem’s language concerns the childishness of the young girl. The speaker calls her “my girl,” as if she is a small child, and places her at the pool party as if she were an infant. Although she will soon become a woman, her appearance is childish, too. The hamburger-and-fries pattern of her bathing suit, her ponytail, and the sweetness of her face all suggest a very young child.
This girl, however, is no fool, as her mother knows. Humorously, the speaker imagines the girl’s math scores unfolding around her in the air, and mathematics makes up the second significant...
(The entire section is 493 words.)