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Tabasco in Space

I hear a generator buzz, I taste those days,
citronella swirled with cardboard meals
and ice unlimited, and the welcome thrill
of Katrina's king cake dolls, half-ounce bottles
of Tabasco packed with MREs marked
"Chicken Fajitas." People thought our food
was special made, a little heat singing
to the tongue of home, but I knew better.
Long have the McIlhennys been men in arms,
and Tabasco has always traveled with them,
from saddlebags, to officers' tables,
to the final frontier—Tabasco in space,
floating from the dripper to the spaceman's lip.

What could be more American than
a Yankee banker ruined by the Civil War
come south to make it big with pepper sauce?

My worst job, worse than Taco Bell cashier,
was at Hill Memorial, a special collections library,
where it fell to me to tackle patrons fool enough
to sneak a pencil in the reading room.
Afternoons I worked behind the scenes
sorting donations, mostly major donor
McIlhenny stuff, his great-grands dumping crates
of a rich life's ticket stubs and corsages.

The librarians couldn't flat out refuse,
which meant shelf space dog-eared in the stacks
for resin hummingbird statuettes alongside
Audubon's Wild Turkey, collectible most high,
and print number one in Birds of America.
Protocol demanded white gloves, as on butlers of yore,
be worn when turning the folio pages
with tissue paper in between meant to keep
the reds from fading, red berries and beaks
living mostly in the archived dark.

They didn't end well, my library months.
I got so tired of filing letters to the world,
letters meant for home, the family bible's
apocrypha intercepted, transcribed, and shellacked.
Moss Madonna decoupage, and photographs
of slaves around the sugar pot, the children
battling stillness so hard that in the aftermath,
to history, they're just a blur.

                                            I wonder
when they noticed my long, long lunch,
my blazer left behind on its peg, work
unfinished on the desk like an exhibit
at the Gallier House, all but the threshold
of the room roped off. If only I'd have thought
to tease them with a prank, something harmless,
like sharpening the golf pencils at both ends,
little footprints, Tabasco bottles placed
at random in the stacks—near Kingfish's
windbag letters, between gilt books in cages.
A fake collection, "The Hot Stuff Chronicles"—
among its contents a list of nonfood uses:
sentry-watch eye drops, cure-all for a sassy tongue.

Tabasco released a C-ration cookbook
as a joke. Somebody sent me one
in a letter not long ago—did they jest,
or fear I'd turned survivalist after a peek
at my post-Katrina stash? So many ways
to spend a mouthful of vinegar and smoke.
Maybe I am crazy—awaiting the end of days,
except for me and mine, who'll be hydrated and fed,
dressed in desert fatigues, and off the grid.

Alison Pelegrin

Hurricane Party
The University of Akron Press

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