Kathryn Nuernberger Poetry 2020 Kathryn Nuernberger is the author of the poetry collections, RUE, The End of Pink and Rag & Bone. She has also written the essay collections Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past and The Witch of Eye (forthcoming in 2021). Her awards include the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets, an NEA fellowship, and “notable” essays in the Best American series. She teaches in the MFA program at University of Minnesota. QUEEN OF BARREN, QUEEN OF MEAN, QUEEN OF LACED WITH IRE If a woman dreams of lace, it is said, she will be happy in the realization of her most ambitious desires and lovers will bow to her edicts. There were two Annes – the one who dreamed of lace and the one who dreamed of waxen seals, as there are two Queen Anne’s Laces – the one with the purple dot at its center like a needle prick of spilled blood, which is edible wild carrot, and the one with no dot, stalk spackled in purple like Socrates’ blood, it is said, though he spilled no blood when he was executed by hemlock, which is non-edible wild carrot also blooming in an upturned face of white blossoms. Carrots, it was said, are such an aphrodisiac Caligula amused himself by feeding the court nothing but, then watched them rut like animals. When I lived in that lonely place, I bought a field guide to learn the name of every flower. There were not many to learn, stitched as I was to a field between a cascade of crop-dusted corn on the left and an ocean of soy on the right. Where there might have been poppies and cornflowers and honey bees needle-pointing the rows, only Queen Anne’s Lace was hardy enough to make a kingdom out of such long-barren dirt. My ire at these impossible, 7-dusted acres. My ire at the billboards with ultrasounds as big as a cloud floating over the rows of copyrighted beans, irrigated so green. When everything on a tract is alive and buzzing, a fallow field will bloom one medicine after another. If you look them up in Culpepper’s guide or Pliny’s, almost all in leaf or seed or stem, some small dose or a large one, will “provoke the menses,” as the euphemism goes. When everything is alive, there is never a week when the soil does not offer you some kind of choice. When I lived in that lonely place I thought I’d turn to Rousseau, who understood so well what we give up in exchange for the social contract, who wrote the great treatises on romanticism and democracy from his place in exile. Rousseau, I thought, my antidote to this minister who does his abstinence-only counseling for teenage girls and pep talks the boys on Godly masculinity just one diner table over. If you knew how many times I’ve heard, “Our Lord is a jealous lover.” But he is also Rousseau who dumped his bastard children in an orphanage. Rousseau who had no care for what the social contract did to the women he took as lovers and then left as lovers. Rousseau who goes on and on about breastfeeding and natural motherhood like a man who has no idea. Had Rousseau written his botanical letters to me, his “dear and patient lady,” with the tedious thought experiment of teaching a “most willing pupil” to visualize the flowers through written language alone – “After you have looked over my letter once or twice, an umbellate plant in flower will not escape you” – I would have been too eager to agree with his post-script. “The meanest kitchen-maid will know more of this matter than we with all our learning.” In describing the umbellate Queen Anne’s Lace in flower, a maid would not have forgotten to mention that crimson dot at the center calling the bracid wasp to his favorite pollenatrix. This drop, it is said, the queen pricked from her own finger on the spindle of her perfect lace. A drop that slips from a kitchen-maid when the great philosopher returns from the prairie of his letters to the greener pasture of her idealized womanhood. A maid would not have forgotten the mark by she knows which umbelliferous queen stops your heart and which one sets it beating once more. It is said the queens upset the cows’ milk if they founder on too much lace. It is said the queens upset the sheep’s digestion, but watch the hoofed beasts and see how they know after a miscarriage to graze the medicine of those leaves. At the end of the season the blossoms turn brown and brittle and close in on themselves like a bird’s nest. The meanest maid knows this is when you gather your clumps of seeds. No one writes down what the kitchen-maids say, so no one is anymore sure whether you drink them only after sex or every day or when you are ovulating or for the full two weeks between ovulation and menstruation. Some say you must chew the seeds to release the tannins. Some say drink them down in a glass of water. Some say it is a crime to publish such information. Some say only that it is a liability. Now in the laboratories of the minds of the great thinkers they call it rumors and old wives tales. As if none of us has ever needed an old wife. As if only fools would allow themselves to turn into such wizened things. There was Anne I who was known for making beautiful lace. And there was Anne II who was known for her sixteen miscarriages, four dead children, and slipshod petticoat of a government. There was Anne I who employed subterfuge and intrigue to manipulate the King’s policies. And there was Anne II who had no king and no heir and no wars and hardly even an account of discontent among the flourishing and well-fed people. And yet what is said of her is only that she was Anne the fat, Anne the constantly pregnant, Anne the end of her line. My ire at the kingdom. My ire at the kings. My ire at the philosophers who think they can just reinvent the world inside the eye of their own minds. What I want I want on terms as I dictate them. My ire at my terms. My ire at my impossible wanting. That I can be no flower and be no field, my ire. That there will be more castrated queens, an endlace necklace of almost enough, my ire. My ire, if you wait enough years, the field will finally grow. If you wait years enough you will be long dead, my ire.