A HYPERACTIVE CROWN OF CROWNS (in memory of three queens— Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Lucie Brock-Broido)
I crown myself Queen of Ants in my Pants, what teachers used to call ADHD. I sniffle watching cable new hosts chant about injustice. Then I fall asleep to a body-scan meditation app, deep breathing in and out, starting to snore, before waking in minutes—holy crap!-- my spliced-headline nightmares hard to ignore even with a lime THC gummy, a Tempur-Pedic pillow and eye mask, my sheets wrapped around me like a mummy. What kind of casket should I get? I ask the dark. I need a plan for when I go, a coffin like a new car with a bow.
A coffin, not quite a car with a bow surprising a spouse in a commercial around Christmas! Of course we all know we’ll die so it shouldn’t be controversial to pre-pay our funeral, have a plan for music or flowers. My friend Maureen wants to live on as a tree, her human compost in Denver to make leafy green shade for her yet-to-be born great grandkids. For now, her crown chakra glows past her cancer like a halo. Liner around her eyelids gives her glamour. She’s a necromancer bringing me messages from my dead mother. Tell me a story. Tell me another.
Tell me a story, tell me another. My Grammy said her Grammy, Lady Leigh, lived in a Scottish castle with her brother until Leigh eloped with the gardener, pray tell, our hopes for aristocracy gone as she birthed six kids in poverty, our ancestors peasants thereafter, forlorn in Prince Edward Island—cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and tomatoes their crops. No more bouquets of thistle and bluebells, no more illicit kisses. Guzzling hops, Leigh’s husband turned rough and the two rebels grew apart. Disowned, Leigh couldn’t go back, though the castle still lists her name on a plaque.
My dentist Emily tells me my plaque buildup has lessened with the new floss. She’s just rescued a Ukrainian cat, a Lekvoy, a breed created by cross- ing a hairless Donskoy and a Scottish Fold. I’m part Scottish too, I say. She scrolls pic after pic on her iPhone—the cat at her threshold, in a hamper, then eating her lipstick. We wait for the Novocain to take affect so Emily can drill my cavity. You can write about me, but I suspect you poets think I’m boring. Gravity pulls my lip as I protest. Spittle drips down my chin. By spring she’ll fit me for a crown.
By spring my dentist fits me for a crown, plopping it on a bit of tooth she saved after shaving it down to a nub. No gown, just my drool. No pomp nor furs nor engraved jewels. I once wrote a book Queen for a Day though I was never crowned homecoming queen or queen bee. My silver rings, tarnished gray, sit on the soap dish. They’ve left bands of green on my naked fingers. I cruise Netflix-- Harry and Meghan, insufferable in their wealth, each hauling a crucifix made of cash. They’re so vulnerable and, at the same time, fake. The duchess and duke serve up glitzy privacy for rebuke.
Poets serve up privacy for rebuke. Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath also invoke “queen.” Called recluse and kook by critics trying to blunt their wrath, these two wear diadems of pain and joy. Plath’s bees: I have a self to recover/ a queen. Dickinson’s 508 employs crowned for her birth, sings clear as a plover in 91. Pessoa writes “Crown me with Roses,” a celebration, it seems, though I can’t help but think of thorns, heavy crown worn by Jesus. And what of their dreams? Dickinson: It would hurt us — were we awake Plath:...they were part of me. They were my landscape.
Crowns were part of me. They were my landscape. The gold paper Burger King coronet. A cigar band atop Barbie’s head, her cape a facecloth fastened with my barrette taken from my crown of glory. My curls were wild, my mother spraying No More Tears, yanking a comb through my wet hair. Her girl fidgeted so much that she once took shears and cut my hair into choppy pageboy. Lucie Brock-Broido’s hair was scissored off for punishment when she was six. Her ploy? She never cut her mane again. Knopf published her. How did I get on this rant? I crown myself Queen of Ants in my Pants.
-- Denise Duhamel’s most recent books of poetry are Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021) and Scald (2017). Blowout (2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a distinguished university professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.