selections from Speculative Music Theory: Like Dancing About Architecture

Was your own first music simple – lullabye hushabye humming? Or was it your grandpa’s broken muttering of the American words in “Happy Birthday,” while cousins who’d been here years before him sang it like they’d been here always, even though they hadn’t? (You, though – you’re the one who was born here.)

The course is called Early Music and the professor is talking about the carillon in a remote Russian chapel, but there were bells on the hood of the baby carriage, tiny bells that twinkled out tiny tunes when your mother pushed the carriage along the sidewalks of Waukegan, and you were inside. There was a bell on the handlebars of your tricycle, and there were drums the size elves play – those were early too. Their miniature jangling and booming are clear on the album of the memory concert you’ve been playing your whole life. Sometimes the audience leaves the hall to listen instead to YoYo Ma or Billie Holliday. Sometimes you leave with them, but you always come back.

The music teacher walks along the rows, head down, listening to the voices of the children as they sing the national anthem. After home of the brave, she goes to the front of the room and calls out several names – yours is one of them – and says, For the pageant, these students will not sing. These students will move their lips silently. You are so young when this happens you don’t understand how awful it is. You accept it as you accept fire drills. Then, after years of saying Oh no I can’t sing, you forget yourself in a van on a road trip and belt it out with the others – and someone who has no reason to flatter or protect you says, You have a such a strong voice! You choose the next song. Then your heart, behind its seat belt, stops beating for almost a minute.

Judith Arcana

About Judith Arcana

Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, essays and books. One of her stories about abortion & tattoos came out as a zine in 2013 (Keesha and Joanie and JANE); two others are online at Serving House Journal. Her 2012 poetry chapbook is The Parachute Jump Effect, and her Maude poems, a project supported by grants from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council and Portland’s Celebration Foundation, are part of her new manuscript, Nickel Heart. Judith recently had a sandwich named for her at the lovely&amazing Fleur de Lis Bakery/Café in Portland, Oregon. Listen to her read on SoundCloud; visit
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