Petra Kuppers

Earth’s Fresh Drain, or Brunel’s Stroke

It is said that the bow is broken by being kept constantly strung and bent: but if occasionally relaxed, retains its elasticity.

From a letter to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, by A. Hill of Plymouth Iron Works, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, 1858, a year before Brunel’s death.

Call Victoria’s engineer.
The earth’s so damp, all clogged;
let them drain the bottom swamp
clay-pipe breaks toward
river-deep feat, hard-hatted,
smooth straining hands.
Throw the mud to seal the bell
deep in the delta’s mouth.
Tidal sucks sediment – shush,
shush, it calls his name.
A kingdom burns in the kiln;
the flesh trade smooths out
the longest shipping lanes:
“monstrous abuses,
channel of [release],
upper part of the Float
[thrust] wantonly choked up.”
The earth’s fresh moat.
Supply lines break the new dawn.
Large vessels run aground
via spokes of heart, queen’s brain,
to splinter, to siphon, to sprawl;
shallow maroon mudflats gleam
now, long,
now a long song
under the sun.

About the Author

Petra Kuppers (she / her) is a disability culture activist and a community performance artist. Her fourth poetry collection, Diver Beneath the Street, investigates true crime and ecopoetry at the level of the soil (Wayne State University Press, 2024). She teaches at the University of Michigan and is a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow.