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6 MOTHER TONGUE Idiom: “Don’t eat your words.” Condition: “I can taste my words.” Diagnosis: Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia. Lexical slinks off the tongue, its sound a little creek-like, its letters slipping over the pebbles of taste buds, the liquidy linguistics that tinkle past lips. Gustatory fills the mouth’s cavern, its weight weighing down the tongue, its full, cumbersome body heaved over lips with an ungainly gush. Synesthesia. It stutters. It lisps. Lips confused about formation , pronunciation tangled and twisted on a tongue that knows not how or when to let go. The shape of these sounds strung awkwardly together, one after another after another and another, create a type of lingual topography—lexical-gustatory synesthesia—where the tongue attends to the crux of its cadences, taste buds puckering, the full menu of this phrase rolling around a mouth that wants to savor its meaning. Six courses of syllables served twice. Mother Tongue | 7 The salivary experience of lexical-gustatory synesthesia is an interesting sense to consider. Because consider this: having lexical-gustatory synesthesia means “clock” transmutes into licorice on the tongue. Yes, it’s true. Some people have a palate for vocabulary’s succulence. Some people taste words. “Chair” has a chocolate flavor. “Stop sign,” macaroons. “Skyscraper” has a zest of lime. How jealous are you? Taste and touch and reading and hearing all bleed together on the tongue. Paths crossing. Convergence. The translation of words into taste. We all did this as children, learned the tactility and taste of words as a way to understand them, remembering the flavor of phrases to somehow get to know them. But then we grew up. The conversation between word and taste silenced with age. The flavor of language now lost. I’m sitting at my grandmother’s dining room table, gazing across the plateau of its weathered wood surface, staring at a certain server named Susan. She sits, looking up, wondering what she can do to please me next. Nothing. She knows this, stays still. My eyes eye the bits of her own plateau, though her weathered wood surface wears a white doily—the only outfit in her wardrobe. A uniform of sorts. White threads knitted together in a particular pattern placed on top of her, the doily lets the dark wood peek through its loopy weave. Susan and her doily have been sitting here since 1973. In the past four decades, Susan’s purpose has stayed the same. Various din- 8 | Chelsey Clammer ing table necessities sit on top of her—the expected accoutrements of salt and pepper shakers, as well as a wicker chicken circa 1970 containing small pink packets of sweetener. They have all been here since the table was first set forty years ago. Same with the woven napkin holder. The small opaque blue vase that contains a bouquet of fake baby’s breath. Hovering above Susan, the amalgamation of these items’ scents seep into my nose. The fragrance then cascades down the back door of my sinuses, leading to my tongue, which then interprets it as taste. The flavor of history. I reach out, spin Susan around with a soft force from my fingertips. I wonder about her lineage. I want to know what brought her here. Katrina isn’t what she used to be. It used to be that Katrina was a frequently chosen name for children. At the beginning of 2005, she was the 246th most commonly used girl name on the baby name list. And then the summer came. And then a hurricane. And then 1,800 deaths. And now Katrina is no longer wanted. She’s despised, feared. Or more accurately , loathed. Katrina. And how her name is a keepsake no one wants to carry. A stressor triggering traumatic memories that residents who not only remained, but survived, no longer want to recognize as a part of their pasts. The water receded as X’s started to arrive on every front door. The headcount of those who stayed behind, stayed inside, the ones who died, are now just part of a number spray-painted on the soggy out- Mother Tongue | 9 side walls of these ruined homes. Five. And nine over there. Here’s one. Katrina is their trauma. Her usage declines. Recedes. 2006: 379th on the baby name list. 2010: 865th on the baby name list. 2011: She no longer exists in the top 1,000 of the baby name list. The desire for her has regressed. She hasn...


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