I lift out of a bed of swaddling shirts
the packages of red chili
I’ve brought out of the desert
like religious relics
to cook with garlic and oregano,
cumin, round steak. It is a ritual
I learned from my Norwegian mother,
well beyond her blasphemy by now,
the quitting of her people
who exalted the pale purity of butter and
sang Onward, Christian Soldiers as a single voice.
I will grind the pods, feeling the burn
of the red skin and seeds on my fingers—
their rasp when dry like desert snakes
a kind of phantom pain, the sting
that is remembering hers those last years,
on her own in the stark foreign land
far from the dairies of Wisconsin,
the mild sloe-eyed butter cows,
that finds its way into whatever I write now.
A kind of holy writ
with fire at its heart, fed on the tinder
of the cottonwood crosses the Penitentes bear.