The Shipping Container

Kate Hall

copyright ©Kate Hall, 2009

There must be a method of transport
because there are regulations about the movement
of dangerous goods. You made me
a photocopy. I’ve started worrying about getting
the proper transportation certificate
which requires the inspector’s signature,
which requires believing there is
an inspector with the authority to okay me.
There are moments when a dog will hear
what you cannot. The bark is a warning
at 92 decibels. Because you hear nothing
moving out there, fear is vague and continuous.
Quiet is a command that registers only 7 decibels when
spoken aloud. I read your note about the beauty
of the immune system and the mathematics of the brain.
How would you like me to interpret
this love letter? It weighs next to nothing
and ends abruptly. It’s true, the container
has great aesthetic value but I was really hoping
for a free watch with a rechargeable battery or
at least a better kind of nothingness.

Notes on the Poem

In "The Shipping Container," Kate Hall weaves a wistful but subtly pointed statement about empty promises and the disappointment they cause. The poem opens with a description of bureaucratic formality and obfuscation with which, unfortunately, many of us are familiar. When we reach the slightly surreal "... believing there is an inspector with the authority to okay me." we know that the narrator is both bewildered and frustrated by what she must go through to receive what is presumably being delivered to her. That bewilderment grows so profound, it seems, that the narrator's senses become confused. She's uncertain about what she is or isn't hearing, and she grows uneasy. What little she does receive is not what she expects ... "I read your note about the beauty of the immune system and the mathematics of the brain. How would you like me to interpret this love letter?" ... and it clearly disappoints: "It weighs next to nothing and ends abruptly." While what was sent was attractively packaged, it contains little and rings hollow. In the end, the narrator's chagrin is made palpable and powerful by how quietly it is stated. The image of a cheap watch in an ornate gift box is striking, and the phrase "a better kind of nothingness" is heartrending and unforgettable.

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