Smell is the Last Memory to Go by Fatimah Asghar

Smell is the Last Memory to Go by Fatimah Asghar explores how memories can fade over time, with the scent of moments and places often being the last thing to disappear.
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/149512/smell-is-the-last-memory-to-go

Summary

Smell is the Last Memory to Go by Fatimah Asghar recounts a story from Asghar’s childhood, the memory connected intricately with the small of ‘citrus & jasmine’. As the poem progresses, Asghar becomes further distanced from the events, seeming to remember less and less. The last thing she forgets is the smell of ‘jasmine’, the loss of this sense demonstrating her total disconnection with that time in her life.

Structure

Fatimah Asghar splits Smell is the Last Memory to Go into 9 stanzas, each measuring 2 lines in length. The structure is consistent, reflecting Asghar process of drawing back into the memory time after time, retreating into the warm embrace of her childhood.
You can read the full poem here.

Poetic Techniques

One technique that Asghar uses when writing Smell is the Last Memory to Go is enjambment. All of the lines within the poem are enjambed, with Asghar using this technique to reflect the seamless movement of memory. One thing blurs into another, event moving into event without clear beginning or endings – the structural technique reflecting this aspect of memory recall.
Another technique that Asghar uses when writing the poem is a lack of beginning or ending. The poem begins en medidas res, beginning in the middle of events, plunging the reader directly into her memory. This is coupled with an ending which is not clearly defined. Indeed, the final line of the poem has no punctuation, the lack of a conclusion demonstrating the idea that the poem could continue after this final line. Without a clear beginning or end, Smell is the Last Memory to Go connects deeply with the elusive idea of memory, fading in and out to reflect the content of the poem.

Smell is the Last Memory to Go Analysis

Stanza One, Two & Three

Smell is the Last Memory to Go begins, as I suggested above, en medidas res, suggesting that memory is sweeping over Asghar. The form of memory, inherently elusive and non-conformational is demonstrated by the lack of grammar cohesion in this first sentence, Asghar not conforming to traditional rules of grammar.
The repetition of ‘on my block’ across the first two lines of the poem creates a soothing sense of anaphora. This connects with ideas of memory, the poem almost lulling the reading into a sense of security through the ready and consistent rhythms.
The image of ‘a gate’ acts as a symbol of communication across the periods of before and after in Asghar’s life. ‘Gate’ seems to be a mechanism of moving from one area to another, here Asghar moving from the present to the past, through her engagement with memory.
It is within these first two stanzas that the idea of ‘smelling’ is introduced, with Asghar remembering a ‘tree’ that smelled of ‘citrus & jasmine’. These floral scents are appealing, with Asghar remembering them fondly.
These floral scents of the past ‘knock’ the poet back ‘into the arms of my dead / mother’. Asghar suggests that through memory she regains a sense of connection to her now passed ‘mother’. The transcendence of death flourishes through Asghar connection with memory, the scent of the ‘jasmine’ connecting her to a time in which her mother was still alive. This is an incredibly powerful suggestion, yet simultaneously contains a sorrowful note as we know that this memory is becoming increasingly difficult for Asghar to retain.

Stanza Four, Five & Six

Asghar uses these stanzas of Smell is the Last Memory to Go to construct the idea that her memory of this moment is fading slowly. She begins by focusing on an image of separation, the ‘neighbours put up gates’ between the tree and Asghar’s family home. In doing this, a sense of sight is severed from the poem, Asghar now only relating to the tree in terms of the scent it releases. This could be understood as a metaphor that displays the power of scent, lasting longer than sight within memories. This is demonstrated in the line, ‘a tree I can’t see, but can smell’, ‘smell’ being syntactically more important and therefore emphasising it’s power over ‘see’.
It is interesting to note that Asghar focuses on the memory of ‘my mother’s skirt twirls’. This memory, at first, seems to be relating to the idea that she can remember her mother. Yet, as we examine it closer, it actually becomes apparent that she doesn’t remember her ‘mother’, but only the idea of her ‘skirt twirl[ing]’. She cannot see any physical features of her mother, just the ‘ghost’ of a memory. She reaffirms the power of scent here, exploring the ‘smell’ of ‘perfume’ that she can still recall all these years later. Although she can’t see her mother, she can smell her perfume, bringing her comfort.

Stanza Seven, Eight, Nine

The focus on a ‘fallen orange’ could suggest that the ‘tree’ she remembers has either been destroyed, or has moved out of season, releasing its fruit to the ground. Either one of these interpretations yield the same result, with Asghar suggesting that her memory of the tree is fading. The ‘fallen orange’ could represent the subsiding memory, the rotting orange being paralleled to the fading memory.
The idea that the orange is ‘smashed into sidewalk’ could relate to an act of violence that Asghar is trying to forget. This could be a moment of trauma in her childhood that she is pulling away from. This is furthered by the following stanza, focusing on ‘blood pulped’ and the violence suggested by that image.
The final stanza focuses on the complete loss of energy. ‘Jordan hands me a jasmine’, the holding of ‘jasmine’ a representation of Asghar holding the memory of her childhood in her head. Yet, when she arrives ‘home’, all of ‘its petals are hone’. This loss of life, displayed through the withering flower, reflects Asghar’s loss of memory. As each petal falls, she remembers less and less of her childhood ‘block’. Eventually, no smell remains, nothing to remind her of the past.
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