Petra Kuppers

Resting Place / Louis Staeble

Pole Stories

This is where the shamans gathered pole dancing in the old arteries of cast-away conglomerations, housing projects on prairies in the inner ring of a motorway’s protection.

You can still image the warmth of a palm against the old metal spray-painted yellow, green, a metonymy of life in the grey of early concrete, asphalt, mud brown, those strange colors that used to signal community in an older aesthetic.

They erected poles, every few steps, street corners, clearly way-posts, ways to lurch and grab on to something fixed, halting stations in the flow of individual motorized vehicles, conveyances that moved independently from surface street, from air, danger everywhere.

So shamans, we believe, held watch at these poles, those stations, a little metal sheet, imprinted with numbers, attached at the top.

Runes, most experts now agree, related to tree alphabets and other ways of calming down a nature too threatening to navigate without coordinates.

Some are found bent, their hollow nature not designed to withstand tons of snow, the winds of the twenty-second century, the clash of hurling metal debris that washed through outposts of an old humanity.

But they remind us of what we always knew of priests, of witches: timetables of worship have been found intact still riveted to the hollow metal tubes, tabula of metronomic metropoles that ran on twenty-four hours of clocktime, touching remnant of sun worship, sending silent prayers up through the shaman’s channel, hollow reed.

In old 2D photographic representations, painstakingly assembled from file glitches, data fields moldy with age, we can see them still: ragged clothes and double-layered North Face jackets, molting, a scarf wound through beards.

Most men, some believed to be women, many already trans, cling to the poles, their station, hold down sanctuary, spend precious time while others hurry, those traces blurry in the crumbling data sets of older public libraries.

They stand, sidewalk sculpture, one hand in contact with the magic pole, the other often out, palms open, a gift of time and space to those who cannot pause.

Researchers agree, spiritual asylum is offered in the cast of an arm’s compass.

Strangely, whenever experts try to track one of these creatures through video archeology—surveyance tracks found in police stations, underground bunkers—it invariably happens: a long rectangular street object, wheeled, banner corresponding to the mathematical symbol on the pole’s sign, heaves into view, obscures what really goes on, in the moment of exchange, the electric charge of palm to palm.

Afterward, sometimes, the poles stand empty, the shaman spirited away, a grey cloud left behind.


The Great Lakes are awash in tiny spheres of polyethylene and polypropylene that companies have been adding to toothpaste, hand soap, and exfoliating facial scrubs since the 1990s. (Chicago Tribune, 2015)

Go-ed down to the place with the stick
write-ed what is there when claw open
hand and foot in, quick-quick, like
web dissolve, smooth velvet, drips down
trousers, darkens the hem, black-white.

In-brain darkness, breath gone, hollow
In head large, larger, bug-eyes open
wavery sightlines in the green and the dark
In-brain long really dark, snakehead faint,
Alewife plague in-brain, the wet, the float, float

like sleep, tablet picture, like babe in arms,
like held, close, when you sink down tunnely
black and no air. One butterfly wing stroke up
and yellow open, sparkly on back and hair
and drip from the eyelash and smile.

Up-down heel touch-ed nearly all the way to back
of my head, your head, laugh, soggy pretzels,
spin wash cycle, it all just goes and goes
circles run to the outer edges like ducks
like dragonflies like big crane like gone.

Petra Kuppers is a disability culture activist, a community performance artist, and a teacher at the University of Michigan and on the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College. Collections include Cripple Poetics: A Love Story, with Neil Marcus and Lisa Steichmann (Homofactus: 2008), and Pearl Stitch (Spuyten Duyvil: 2016). Poems and stories have appeared in PANK, Adrienne, Visionary Tongue, Wordgathering, Beauty is a Verb: New Poetics of Disability, textsound, Streetnotes, Festival Writer, and Accessing the Future.