Learning to Love Chilli: a poem, in parts
It’s like fire down the back of my neck, my hairline inflamed, my tongue hits my front teeth as if looking to escape. Fuck.
I am gasping. Green chillies float in the bowl of noodles in front of me, my legs crossed around it. They masquerade as beans, to me - a teenager in a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur, desperately trying to impress her dad, a man she doesn’t really know. By devouring the spicy noodle soup. And accidentally biting into a green chilli.
Fireworks outside. It’s New Year’s Eve. The air humid, despite the air con.
My new tattoo throbs in the encompassing heat, across my back.
People say that eating chillies is addictive, but all I feel is panic and death coating my mouth. Pain is terrifying.
The tattooist’s needle scraps across my 28-year-old, newly-divorced-and-heartbroken ribs, touching the bone. Popping pain, numbing my skin and senses, like how the flavour of Schezuan pepper sits at the back of your nose.
The pain is meditative, it’s all I can focus on.
Don’t get married at 24, do get heartbroken. Then, promptly fall in love with a beautiful young man from South Africa whose visa will run out soon. Your friends feed you fat steaks with sweet, hot, hot chimichurri. And lashings of red wine.
Fattened by love of a Frenchman who cooks rice with butter, this needle barely skims my ribs, instead sinks into flesh, scrawling new words across my body.
Chilli loves fat.
As ink pierces between my ribs the glory of a pork belly in sour sauce from yesterday’s dinner - my 33rd hangover birthday feast - is heavy on my mind.
Where the heat built and rolled across my mouth, and settled at the base of my tongue.
Earthy sweetness - as the chilli hides in the layers of lard, slowly unleashing as fat melts.
Not all chilli is heat, and not all heat is chilli.
It is something that time has unravelled on my tongue - as nuance and a shifting identity.
A fruit I see and feel in many guises.
I am constantly wrong about what chilli is.
Sweat drips down my cleavage, pooling in a roll of belly, just under my breasts.
This blistering summer. Crammed into a restaurant, elbow to elbow, licking heat off my hands with the salt of fried fish. Heat from garlic, from spice, heat from capsium annuum. Surrounded by near strangers, I desperately want to impress, in job I’m beginning to love. Sauce drips on my chest, on the first tattoo I ever got. At 14. The only needle work that is visible - unless I am a particular kind of drunk
I talk too much, I find chilli that sits on different parts of my tongue, and, a sharp sauce that lingers, gathering up all the spice.
I avoid the green beans.