Published on Academy of American Poets (


A shipping container of rubber duckies made in China for the US washed overboard in 1992, and some of them traveled and washed ashore over 17,000 miles over 15 years.
Let’s go ahead and assume it’s yellow.
What little of science I know:
its plastic skin invincible against salt water,
but not the sun–
we can only ask so much.
Will it fade or brown?
What I mean to say is
I would want one of these
for my daughter:
its internal clock set to the mercy of the currents
that have been predictable for centuries,
but mercy is not the word anyone
would choose.
Sometimes not making sense and floating
are the same.
Each wave is its own beginning and ending.
Through international waters,
you could have caused an incident:
no one knowing you,
never reaching the hands that hoped for you.
Rough immigrant, or
free refugee–
floating flagless,
fading border,
stamped with words but not your name.


Copyright © 2018 by Bao Phi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“My family came to the United States as refugees from the war in Vietnam. I was a baby, physically present, but I had no memory besides what was told to me by my family. Throughout my life as a writer and a human being in America, the themes of being lost, of being alien, of being an object of curiosity or derision, has always been present. I was watching a nature documentary that told the true story of a shipping container full of bath toys washed overboard and how some of those toys, having been adrift for fifteen years, travelled thousands of miles. I was drawn to that story for obvious reasons.”
—Bao Phi


Bao Phi

Bao Phi is the author of Thousand Star Hotel (2017) and Sông I Sing (2011), both published by Coffee House Press.

Date Published: 2018-09-24

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