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 a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Her newest collection of poems is OCEANIC, winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). With Ross Gay, she co-wrote the chapbook, LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of nature poems. She is also the author of a forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays from Milkweed Editions in 2020. She is the poetry editor of Orion and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry 2015 & 2018 series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Her honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pushcart Prize.