Nine Spice Mix

This spice mix is featured in many of the dishes in this book, lending them a uniquely Palestinian flavor.
 —Reem Kassis, “The Palestinian Table”

First they tango on my tongue,
nimble couples careening,
then together
form an Arab-style line dance
stepping, stomping, swaying.

West Indies allspice dazzles,
berries tangling with cinnamon sticks,
while cloves, Indonesian natives,
lead with a spirited solidarity solo.

Coriander seeds offer greetings in Hindi
as others toast comrades in languages
beyond borders and blockades.

Lifting up sisterhood, sun-wizened nutmeg
starts a sibling dance with mace.
Cumin demurs, then surprises
with subtle exultation.

Queen of spices cardamom,
host of the party, gives a nod to flavors
in hiding: lemony, sweet, warm, 
fragrant, nutty, pungent, hot.

Encouraged, feisty black peppercorns
shimmy center stage, organizing
the unique union of nine
for a vivacious global salute.


Copyright © 2022 by Zeina Azzam. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 7, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

Where else in our homes can we find an international assembly, a veritable United Nations, than in our spice cabinets? As they pique, rouse, whet, and spur our senses, spices also serve as national identity markers and remind us that the history of cuisine is based on the history of global trade routes, politics, and cultural connections. These nine world spices, an exuberant bunch, travel across borders and blockades to inform and lift up the Palestinian palate.”
Zeina Azzam