Cinnamon Roots

Cinnamon, sweet wood spice, once traded like gold,
when I look for my roots I find you, yellowish brown
like my winter skin, native of Sri Lanka, growing wild
in the jungles of the Kandy Highlands.

Fourteen ninety-two, Columbus never finds you,
sailing westwards to the lands of the Arawak Indians,
he promises spices and gold, trophies for a Spanish Queen.
Brings her Taino slaves as gifts.

But Portugal, travels East to an island that falls, like
a teardrop, from the tip of India. Finds your soft sweetness,
wraps it in hard cash, grows rich on your rarity,
founding a spice trade, that deals in blood.

The Dutch make plantations, to tame your wild fragrance,
that can never sweeten their breath. Demand quotas of your bark,
enforced by death and torture. Burn down your August harvest,
fabled fuel of the phoenix fire, to keep up the prices.

Dutch East India becomes British East India.
Your acres grow in the rain and heat of Sri Lanka,
filling the coffers of the British Empire.

Nineteen ninety-two I buy your ground aroma in pre-packed jars,
fry you with aubergines and coriander, look for my roots,
find you yellowish brown, like my winter skin, native of Sri Lanka
growing wild in the jungles of the Kandy Highlands.

Published in Wild Cinnamon and Winter Skin, Peepal Tree Press, 2007

Wild Cinnamon and Winter Skin cover image