Polyptych: Fédora



Before she was a gangster she was a cop. Before she was a cop she was a bee tamer. And before she was a bee tamer she was a mini Bernhardt in a gray fedora. She cross-dressed and crossed­over, stuck her hand into a world and kept her mouth shut. Shadowy men sailed by in their showboat­-cars, toting heat, faking family, promising real. The last time I saw her, her face was a sunflower screaming on a stem, and you warned me to keep the kind of distance a big sister would never be able to keep. I told you then, and I’ll tell you now: When I first met her I was thirteen and she was new. Baby­-bee-­new. Dove-­gray-­fedora new. Her heart pulsed wildly in the top of her head.






The word fedora comes from the title of an 1882 play by Victorien Sardou, who wrote the part of Princess Fédora Romanoff especially for the French stage actress, Sarah Bernhardt. During the play, Bernhardt, a notorious cross­ dresser, wore a center­creased, soft brimmed hat. She was so popular in the role that the hat went on to become fashionable among women in France and the U.S. and to become known as the fedora. The name Fédora means gift of God.






She once took a pencil and drew an entire crew of shadowy men in fedoras on her bedroom walls years before she would meet any of them in person. The drawings were life­-sized and resembled gangsters from the twenties, but neither sister could be sure what the drawings meant at the time. One sister was excited, the other stunned speechless.






Fedoras have become widely associated with gangsters and Prohibition, which coincided with the height of the hat's popularity in the 1920s to early 1950s. When a cop turns into a gangster, it is often because of the lure of fortunes to be made in illegal drugs. Even good cops will lie rather than testify against their fellow cops. This is known as the Code of Silence, or “testilying."






I keep getting her funeral mixed up with Dad's, when her old stalker showed up and we asked him to leave and he did. No drama, although we were prepared, in our grief, to kill him. Not everything I say will be true, but that is. I can't remember burying her, but I know she wasn't there. She'd fucked up once too often, she said. I haven't seen her since.






Sarah Bernhardt was a notorious liar. Thus, many of the details of her life are question­ able. In the same manner, the author of “Fédora" admits she lied about her real name in order to protect the innocent, although she's not sure who that might be.






A bee tamer can stick her bare hand into a hive and come away unstung.





This text originally appeared in Starr Owen's Fedora (The Lune, 2016)

Starr Owen is a heteronymic poet. S/he is the author of multiple award-winning hats.