Birthday Poem

By | 15 May 2023

Everyone said twenty
was too many chillies
for one

I insisted,
fondle them now
through the polyester tote:
dangerous and shiny
a jumble of soft, wonky bullets.

I have decided
chillies are where
I will find beauty today.

Beauty is what we’re born

(Toni Morrison in my headphone)

it’s not even
a privilege or a quest.

my quest begins
anticipating these chillies

scouring this house’s throats
after I’ve blended them with ginger
cherry tomatoes, shallots
and fried the lot down
to a thickness
all to bake
four fish in tomorrow
which I’ll eat with twenty friends, one
for each chilli.

My quest continues
with the cashier who says wow
that’s a lot
of chillies.

To which I say I’m making sambal
but she’s practicing Italian
with the customer next to me,

no longer interested
in my chillies.

I go questing while

agreeing with Toni,
because I need it,
because repetition makes time
seem something other
than decrepit
I’ve done this
twenty eight times now: nothing
if not repetition.
Shouldn’t I
know better
than to grump at slow pedestrians
into the path I attempt
the overtake in,
or weather reports
dispatching me to buy
chillies in pants
and a long sleeve on a day
demanding shorts?

This overheating itch and sweat
ovalling darkly
on my back is so familiar
as to be unremarkable —
my quest passes
over it,

lands instead on chillies browning
over medium heat now the lime
juice, sugar
and oil have been added.

It’s easy to want more of this—
elaborate preparations,
friends fawning while digging in—
though really I want more
of everything,
more! more! more!
More of my sweaty
shirt agitating me on today
of all days. The picture of life

a birthday brings: hoops
passed smoothly through
at uniform intervals.
And between each hoop, a stretch, each so
familiar as to be

At some point the hoops, the stretches
finish up.
For now, beauty
quested and unquested:
chillies frying, sweat,
irritable in the hot street.

Though isn’t it biblical
—too much so
—finding salvation in the minor
or shitty as though god
all the time, as though
it’s a tuning problem, as though there aint
no difference
between a seance and a school
Which I believe there isn’t
and do also
believe there is.
Nothing needs elevating
or everything does.

Beauty comes at me neatly, I miss it

all the time squashing inconveniences
into something I’ve decided
is its shape,
(see my sweaty shirt, my
chilli bag)
and that birthday image
while we’re at it
it’s wrong, doesn’t matter

if it weren’t a hoop but an archway, a flap:
we don’t ever pass thru
a thing,
this forked and massive world
drops on us like a branch.
Even my decision to go questing is a kind
of inexplicable crash,
as is this year I’m just now spinning
I’m sorry
I got the pictures wrong,
I’m sorry I went looking
for what I’d miss in the search, I’m sorry
I filled the house with spicy smoke
and used the pan
that doesn’t handle acids well.

It is an absorbent
pan, seasoned
with everything that’s ever been cooked,
ever will be,
in it.
I hope it’s not ruined.
Whatever we eat from it
has a hint now of chillies, though
less so each time.
At some point
I suppose
we won’t taste them
at all.

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