The Most Portable Instrument

I am learning there is
a single horn    growing
from the top of my head

Because it is invisible
no one can take it from me

When I walk down the street
singing to myself
it rises up    silvery shapely
pointing the way

I follow it
It makes me laugh    and remember
the animal I am



Click here to read Hilary Sallick on the origin of the poem.

Image: Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash, licensed under CC 2.0.

Hilary Sallick:
I sing in a choir and, now and then, I’ve studied music. “The Most Portable Instrument” comes from a metaphor a voice teacher once offered me: “Imagine you have a horn growing from the top of your head,” she said playfully. This instruction made me laugh. My teacher was telling me something specific about how to think of breath and sound in my body; she was also encouraging me to be child-like and to have fun. Good advice!

I think the poem describes a possibility or mood of freedom that is essential to learning; we can forget who might or might not be listening. We can let go of ideas of achievement. We can be curious about exploring something. It is there — no one can take it away!

Another thought: the written word can feel like an inadequate stand-in for musical expression. Over the years, my experience as a music student has helped me find the connection between learning and creating. Like the speaker of the poem, I sometimes dare to sing while walking down the street. Then I remember that I too am an animal with a material body, one capable of making real and imaginary music.

Hilary Sallick
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