On olfaction and translation

Salmon returning up a creek...

Mi máscara

Estoy alejada en la vida
lejana en la concha
estricta en el modo
yo intento
empezar con jeringas, y limón.
¡si me permitiese llamarle poema!
¡poema en mis sueños!
¡intriga! ¡vocabulario! ¡incienso!
costumbre de vivir, con rosas y con salmones.

A miña máscara

Estou afastada na vida
afastada na cuncha
estrita no modo
empezar con xiringas, e limón.
Se me permitise chamarlle poema!
nos meus soños!
Intriga! vocabulario! incenso!
Costume de vivir, con rosas e con salmóns.

Translation Speaks

I am far off in my life
far off in my shell
strict in mode
I try
to begin with syringes, and lemon.
If you would allow me to call you poem!
in my dream!
Intrigue! vocabulary! incense!
Custom of living, with roses and with salmons.

Mon masque

Je suis éloignée dans la vie
distante dans la coquille
stricte en mode
je tente
à débuter avec des seringues, et du citron.
si vous me le permettiez : poème !
dans mes rêves!
intrigue ! vocabulaire ! encens !
habitude de vivre, avec des roses et des saumons.

Salmons, salmóns, saumons, salmones. Why all these salmons swimming in this fishy text on translation? Roses? In my recent The Unmemntioable, trout appeared. Trout of slippery memory, and of love.

In translation, though, it is the salmon that intrigues me, anadromous being that returns to where it started, to the stream bed where it first hatched and swam. Just as a human baby can identify the breast of its mother by smell, salmon identify their stream bed. What was once thought, up through the 1990s, to be magnetic imprinting, is now known as olfactory.

The curious thing about the olfactory is that in the head, the primary olfactory cortex lies at a juncture. It is right above the amygdala, necessary for emotional memory, and is connected to the basal forebrain and thus to the hippocampus, also part of the emotional system of being. For the fish, water contains smells. Water is thus affectively charged. Water, for the salmon, is emotional, is the paragraph that is emotional to Gertrude Stein. Without olfactory memory, the fish can’t “think.”

We too, humans, use olfactory memory. The baby recognizes its nurse’s breast. The deterioration, in later life, of olfactory memory is linked to dementia and Alzheimers, those losses of direction in self, language, being. Olfactory memory is our first language too. We also are still fish. Emotional in what surrounds us: water or language.

So the salmon. In translation I live, literally and literarily, with roses and salmons. I read in one tongue while seeking, wordful, the stream of language into which I was born.*

*though I have been born many times now, it seems—whenever I learn a new language…