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‘Elders of the Pot’ by Jasmine Cooray – Primers Shortlist 2017

They sit in a rainbow of re-used jam jars, watch
the traffic of the kitchen, hold proverb and gossip in
their gnarled shapes and powders. Every wooden spoon

is yellow to the neck. Turmeric, coriander, mustard seed
land on the heat of inherited pans, smoke their sour huck
into the corners of the house, leak under doorframes.

They lodge, stubborn in curtain fibres, carpet, catch
the back of the throat when the chilli’s capsaicin wakes,
beats its chest, a genie who gets too little sleep.

Some are too fussy for the mill: cloves, curry leaves
require hours of simmer to unfurl their signature tang,
then hide in slivers of tomato skin, lentil quicksand.

Some wait until the table to shock the soft palate.
Extract the debris piece by piece, pull cinnamon shards
from the pouch of a cheek, star anise, cardamom husks.

This alchemy is an art – the delicate oils can burn,
render the whole pot a vat of bitter sludge, but get it right
and taste an ancient scale of notes that hum

through veins, cumin, garlic singing under the arms
for days. You can smell it down the street. If we lost
our way home, still we could fumble back, follow those

olfactory tones, each gust of steam pulling like a sea siren,
until our noses found the door, the hob, the pot, the lid,
vapour embracing: spice elders, all speaking at once.

Jasmine Cooray is on the ten-person shortlist for Primers Volume III. ‘Elders of the Pot’ is from her shortlisted manuscript Severance. We’ll be showcasing the work of all the shortlisters writers over the next two weeks, so check back to read more poems.

Jasmine is a poet, facilitator and counsellor from London, of Sri Lankan and mixed European descent. She teaches others to use creative tools to access humanity, joy and healing. She was Writer in Residence at the National University of Singapore in 2013, a 2015 BBC Performing Arts Fellow, and is now a Spread the Word Associate Writer. To balance her reclusiveness, she does an excellent line in hugs.

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Image: Naomi Woddis