Jessica Johnson


Before I knew what they were           
sky, cobalt boxes flying
I had tasted anything
like blind flags. Why did I like
the far-off sun, the way they



          the ships were out there: crimson,
          names like Maersk, Han Jin. Before
          I watched them riding the sea
          them, except the way they snagged
          whispered girl, there is a globe.


Other names for _________:
arrived from far-off shores. Con-
and making your own costs more.
Citizens dedicated to
and a paycheck always short.


          Subtle slick of algal blooms
          tainers of cheap baby clothes
          Stores devoted to storage.
          plastic. Homes built for storage               
          Pages of bare-roomed dreamscapes.


The boys understood they would
on their beds imagining.
and if they had to they could
They would walk with style. They would
breathe in off-hours. They could


          have to work but still they lay
          Jobs would be easy (like school)
          unload freight at the port.
          fly their brands and let their lives
          dream of living as they were.


"They don’t know I have this," said
after his name wasn’t drawn
and there was no work welding,
elevator school, no job
key," he said. "Universal.


           one boy grown into a man
           in the longshore lottery
           no work on trains, and after
           fixing elevators. "The
           I can ride them up and down."


On the outskirts young men of
without quantifiable
young men branded unprepared
shrugged uneasily into
aspiring to a language



          the dominant race, young men
          skills, without subject and verb,
          have Otherized themselves, have
          hip-hop’s too-large, too-sharp clothes
          of boldness and resilience.


Landlocked, I fold stray baby
piling up at the ports (work
thinking a word-stream I
load). I travel the charted lanes
missing moonlight through the pines:



          socks, the ships still out there,
          stoppage, no one to unload),
          never say (no one to un-
          I seek names for resistance.


Container as worldview: all
mobile, world with prices marked
ready to be handled by
bodies are available
Container signifying a



          things divisible, flat-packed
          monetized, machine-friendly
          robots. A world in which all
          no self indivisible.
          world in pieces, broken down.


Container as minimal-
my generation, my in-
do not wish to compromise
made of ___________'s bright detritus.        
of our genius and the world's



          ist shelter fantasia for
          debted urban cohort who
          further. Container as home
          Container as assurance
          unlikely sufficiency.


Container under the bridge
noon glance: containter as ping
convergence with scrawled boxes
land, containers rocketing through
Container suggesting right



          caught in a rain-soaked after-
          as world-rhyme as harmonic
          stacked onto trains headed in-
          Idaho or Italy.
          now I could be anywhere.


Names of the un-container-
far-off broken sea. The planes
The beloved's head, pausing
a scuffle of feathers on
story we make of a day.



          izeable: moon shards on the
          of the head, the human head.
          hair frayed by sleep, surveying
          the lawn, rising into the
          Light pools on waking concrete.





For years I watched container ship traffic from various points on [this map]. [The juxtaposition of the natural and the heavy-industrial] was always thought-provoking. Later, [living near the Port of Portland], I'd see them on the Columbia occasionally. When I was writing this poem, Portland's container terminal was losing its last lines. At the same time, I sensed the narrowing field of opportunity that accompanies adult commitments; at the same time, I came across [this poem by Rusty Morrison] and several poems that operate by renaming (including [this one by Danez Smith]); at the same time, [an artist friend] who teaches art posted on Facebook about teaching "the planes of the head," an appealing body of knowledge.