The Pepper Kingdom

Never has the world seen so much rumble
and sail over such a small berry. Dark meteor,

perfect pop of fire—you docked millions
of boats to the southern coast of India,

kept so many folds of pale flesh awake and skittled
at night. Dreams of quicker trade routes, maps

and battle plans inked in case anyone
tried to stop them from bringing back

sackfuls of peppercorn. Every kingdom
must have a king. Let us bow to the flavor

of cannonball and palm husk in our cheeks.
Let that small fire on our tongues combust

just enough that we never forget pepper
first came not from a land of flame and blaze,

but from a quiet shoreline of green.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is Professor of English at State University of New York-Fredonia, where she teaches creative writing and environmental literature. Recent honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of three poetry collections: Lucky Fish (2011), winner of the gold medal in Poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books; At The Drive-in Volcano (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize; and Miracle Fruit (2003), winner of the Tupelo Press Prize, ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the Global Filipino Award and a finalist for The Glasgow Prize and the Asian American Literary Award.  Her most recent chapbook is Lace & Pyrite, a collaboration of nature poems with the poet Ross Gay.