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 the author of the New York Times best-selling illustrated collection of nature essays and Kirkus Prize finalist, WORLD OF WONDERS: IN PRAISE OF FIREFLIES, WHALE SHARKS, & OTHER ASTONISHMENTS (2020, Milkweed Editions), which was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s Book of the Year. She has four previous poetry collections: OCEANIC (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), LUCKY FISH (2011), AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), the last three from Tupelo Press. Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of epistolary garden poems with the poet Ross Gay. Her writing appears twice in the Best American Poetry Series, The New York Times Magazine, ESPNPloughshares, American Poetry Review, and Tin House. Honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, a Mississippi Arts Council grant, and being named a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. In 2021, she became the first-ever poetry editor for SIERRA magazine, the story-telling arm of The Sierra Club. She is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.