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  • Some ArchitecturesA Prelude
  • Anna Mullen (bio)

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My mom tells me that I leaped in her belly every time the organ lurched into song. Her habitat was the pulpit in front of the tiny organist and the looming pipe organ, which was gummed into the very architecture of the Carolina church where her earnest voice filled the room as she preached each Sunday.

I want to try to illustrate a time before some things: before logos, before heartbreak, before waters breaking, before jealousy, before I learned to swim, before I could read or play music. While [End Page 148] this time has an innocent architecture, it has nothing to do with virginity or conception, immaculate or otherwise. Set aside everything you know about logos spermatikos (the idea of things being spoken into being), the idea that all space is asking to be filled, or the idea that a church can’t be a church devoid of its people (it can). This time was at once bright and dark, and was happy in this state (because it did not know not to be); this was before the separation of bright and dark, which not all of us have regarded as a good decision. There was no dialectic to be resolved; there was not even a conversation to be had. Hardly a binary to spook.


On weekdays while my mom is working, I sneak into the sanctuary to listen to

the organist practice the coming Sunday’s repertoire. If I hide up in the shadowed balcony, between the teeth of the balustrade, I can listen without being seen. Not being seen is crucial. It configures a small flame of a room deep inside a body that has not yet been gendered. The only light in the sanctuary comes from the sun filtered through window-stories; with the exception of a small incandescent lamp that bends over her sheet music like an anglerfish’s lure, the organist doesn’t turn on the lights to practice. This room is my favorite place to hide in the church midday because it manages to be at once fully bright and comfortably dark.


There is a queer word I have come to love, a Latin one: alvus. As soon as I heard it I was sure its essence and forms preceded any speaking, any edenic garden, or any discord in a garden. No—though it carries a few terrestrial forms, this is a deep-sea word. Before discourse, argument, reason, logic, or rationale. It appears to resist grammatical gender and a singularity of meaning, much like a fish resists land. It means a lot of things and, I suspect, has more generative potential than logos. It attempts to convey a material and shape, not an idea or thesis; it reminds us to assume forms are shared. Shapes come before laws and sounds before verses.

I was taught all second-declension Latin nouns are masculine (or, less commonly, neuter), but alvus is one of a small handful of very old second-declension nouns that are feminine. Invariably mistaken for masculine nouns, many of these words are reserved for various plants (among them oak and its acorn; alder and sometimes boats made from it; humus; and grapes—particularly of the large and swollen variety).

Sometimes this word means womb. It also is a hollow, a beehive (presumably as hollows in trees). Very often it is belly, or stomach. The hold of a ship, a matrix of fruit flesh (a womb that has sweetened in hopes of seeding), a bathtub. Its diminutive, alveolus, can be a little river-bed or the socket of a tooth. Maybe the space in the gums of a river, where slick, green rocks settle into and slide out of sockets. The little dome of air the organist’s hands shape above the keys, an organ’s hollow windchests (empty space being necessary for the generation of music), the cavern I speculated was behind the ranks of pipes. In an array more finely tuned than the most intricate pipe organs, toothed whales hold, in their heads, small air sacs which they finesse in...


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pp. 148-152
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