As the poem begins, the speaker and some other unnamed person (or people) are "Cruising" (or leisurely driving) through a neighborhood. Everything about the poem's first two lines suggests comfort and calm:
- Not only is the speaker "cruising" along, but the streets are "residential"—they're streets where people live, rather than, say, the busy streets of a city center.
- It's Sunday, meaning it's the weekend (and a day when many go to church).
- It's also August—the height of summer, a time marked by vacation, leisure, etc.
The speaker thus seems to be just driving around aimlessly, enjoying the sunshine and maybe looking for a little fun.
The next lines, however, flip this image on its head, as the speaker says, "what offends us is / the sanities." The speaker isn't driving through the neighborhood with a sense of enjoyment, it seems, but rather is upset and disturbed by what they call "the sanities"—those things the world has deemed "sane" and normal.
One might assume "sanities" would be comforting, a sign of order and control. That the speaker is offended by these "sanities" is thus ironic—a sign that the speaker is feeling pretty disillusioned with suburbia.
The sounds of these lines, meanwhile, make their imagery more striking. Notice, for example, all the sibilance here (in the form of /s/ and /z/ sounds):
Cruising these residential Sunday
streets in dry August sunlight:
what offends us is
These smooth, hushed sounds suggest the ease and comfort—and perhaps the sinister, eerie quiet—of this suburban neighborhood.