Laura McCullough

Speaking Malagasy on the Isle of Vanilla

The economy of Madagascar collapsed overnight when Coca-cola changed its formula, switching from real vanilla to a synthetic and didn’t bounce back until New Coke failed and Classic Coke was reintroduced, with vanilla back in. Malagasies were relieved, but conspiracy theorists thrilled to the fact that sugar was gone, replaced by High Fructose Corn Syrup.


Vanilla comes mainly from Madagascar, and grows

on a vine, its flowers both male and female; from planting


to pod can take 5 years. The language of Malagasy has no

grammatical gender. It is not a Romantic language, but has


borrowed a little from the French who took so much.

It’s an island language, Austronesion, and plurals are managed


with a beautiful efficiency: more than one book: book-book;

more than one child: child-child. It’s hard for the Latinate


mind to imagine. They say men give love to get sex and

women give sex to get love, and today a man told me


he doesn’t trust a woman who gives blow jobs. It’s all

about power, he said, and her need to control the man.


I didn’t buy it; I have my own conspiracy theories, prefer

real vanilla to synthetic, sugar cane to HFS. I rarely give in


to a sweet tooth, but now and then, I do, and when I do,

I want it, not like jet fuel, but a slow, complex burn,


the line between control and surrender delicate and uncertain,

like dependent economies, and tenuous like the vanilla flower


blooming for only one day, both male and female, the thinnest

of membranes between them waiting to be stripped away. 



Laura McCullough

Laura McCullough’s second collection of poems, What Men Want, is due out in 2008 by XOXOX Press. Her first, The Dancing Bear, debuted in 2006. She's been a New Jersey State Arts Council Fellow twice, once for poetry and once for prose. She has an MFA in fiction from Goddard College and has been both a contributor and member of the social staff at Bread Loaf, a Prairie Schooner merit scholar in poetry and has attended the Vermont Studio Center.


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