by Jordan Burns
I hear there’s vanilla bean down in Mexico,
a vining orchid mass of fat green tubes
that bulge and twist like ear parts.
Vanilla planifola in dead words.
bean plants grow slow and specific – they take nine months,
like me, and then it’s April.
thick gold dust aches only for the Melipona bee, but who can wait for the one?
a soul-mate is a risky thing.
people with dark hair and skin and lips
don’t wait it out;
instead they know to hand-woo those
vanilla maidens. There are secrets:
a stem of grass to lift the flower flaps;
a tiny touch to coax the parts;
a modest eye to behold
the hug of pollen grains on swollen stigma – Careful, always careful.
then some beans are popped
open for the flavor in the syrup that leaks
onto harvest fingers – red-black, like deep-gut blood.
secrets don’t drip, they spill.
other beans are cured to fetch a better price: first they know to drop
the slender pods in pots of rolling boils.
the searing water kills any
vegetating flesh. Then they leave them
outside, trapped inside
tight wool wraps for ten sun-burned days.
and they sweat and sweat –
like summer journeys in my desert home, on dry mesas,
when my heart beats secret fevers to my skin
and I can’t escape the hot-cloud hanging from my head.
becoming is the same for everything.
they sweat until they’re ready. Now they smell like vanilla, and taste like it.
and, so their vanilla souls won’t rot,
the people know to dry them in the white noon heat,
until the long bean fingers grow
raisin-dark and wrinkled,
their secrets shrivel like shrunken heads,
and they clack like ropes when sold in black bunches.
I hear crops often fail,
for sometimes hands aren’t quick enough and visions are too big.
the seasons are tireless.
I don’t know vining bean forests,
or Mexico sun,
or Spanish, or the Melipona bee –
I’ll never have more
than one native tongue.
but I hear bursting, and sweating, and shriveling –
whispers loud and deep in my ear:
I must know a little vanilla language.