Sunday, November 4, 2012


Editor's Note: This poem was previously published in You Are Here: The Journal of Creative Geography, Volume 8, Summer 2006. 

Posted by Michael Ratcliffe, JESSUP, MD --

The air a mix of diesel and spices
at the concrete and asphalt corners
 of Routes 1 and 175.
Commodities flow in and out
of the road-bound harbor, from container ships in Baltimore,
unloaded in hours by man and crane
(a job that once took days and hundreds),
to trucks laden with seafood and produce
for the restaurants of Washington and Baltimore.

This is the harbor in suburbia,
truck stop and warehouses,
wholesalers and cheap motels,
and the shipping channel moves down the interstate.

Here is where the spices are packed
that once were packed in Baltimore
when its harbor filled with ships
from Asia and the Caribbean;
Central American banana boats;
buy boats filled with oysters and crabs
and produce from the Eastern Shore.

Here is where the sons and grandsons
of longshoremen who worked the boats
spend their days in warehouses
driving forklifts in and out of trailers
for barely a living wage,
or spend their days behind iron bars
and the razor wire fences
of the penitentiary
(another extension of Baltimore).

Here is where the prostitutes
work the lot from truck to truck,
where drivers find a home-cooked meal
     and a quick fuck.
Here are the suburban slums—
trailer parks and cheap motels
where families crowd a single room
rented by the week; and next door
lovers tryst on the half-day rate;
children play amid the diesel fumes,
suburban dreams a world away.

This is Jessup, where we find
the city’s rhythms in modern form;
the flow of goods in and out,
the city’s dirt, sights, and smells,
banished from the old harbor
now washed clean and sanitized,
a playground for suburbanites
who cannot stand the thought of Jessup.

Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer who lives and works in the DC area. His poems have appeared in The Little Patuxent Review, Symmetry Pebbles, Loch Raven Review, Do Not Look at the Sun, Poetry Quarterly, The Copperfield Review, and You Are Here: the Journal of Creative Geography.  When he is not writing poetry, he dabbles in census geographic area concepts and criteria, manages census geography programs, and teaches population geography.  He can be reached at and found at

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