Samantha Deal

Notes on a Conversation with my Sister

We were sitting at the kitchen table—my sister and me. It was December, soundless
and cold. I remember the floodlight, dim blanket adrift black trees. I remember
wind, webs of frost crocheted across kitchen windows.

What’s different about you? What changed that day—after the accident?

Back then, she was a dark curtain—a drape of shoulder
and limb

left agape. She was unfastened, her sternum an entrance torn

off kilter and hanging by a hinge.


There is something untold in the design of cold, the single-mindedness
of snow.

According to Baudelaire, dreamers need a severe winter. [The sad season]—he called it.

She asked the question after everyone else had gone to sleep. I remember the pulse
of our mother’s antique clock, the exhale of a lone light switch—

and the quiet blanket of nothing that followed. I don’t know how to explain.

I wasn’t lying when I told her.

Back then, I didn’t know we had so few doorways. I believed the answer was written
somewhere, some language that could be learned.


The Tao Te Ching speaks of the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears as the holes and doors
of the self—our openings.

[Excitement overcomes cold, stillness overcomes heat]—

which is to say: reconciliation
of opposites, which is to say: harmony, one wave

rolling over another


A music teacher once told me that a fluorescent light vibrates at 420 Hz. He said you could tune an instrument to that sound. He said that if every note fell into its right place
it would produce another note, a multiple of the original—this is called an overtone.

You have to listen—he said. It’s easy not to hear it

Somewhere, there’s a harmony without witness —a frequency floating along the ceiling tiles. Together, the original and the overtone form a language, what’s called—a partial


If I could go back, I would answer better. I would talk to my sister about the hollowness
of wind, the lungs of the earth—invisible but active —[Pneumata—”air in motion” ]

how we know it only by what it touches. I would ask her about the static tenor
of tree limbs bent beneath a sheath of ice—because after all

what living thing doesn’t

have to exist with the weight of itself? Because back then, my body was nothing but walls—

just another place
I didn’t have to be.


The strip of land that wraps itself around the edge of a body of water
is known as shore, but also—strand

For years, I thought of her as sleep and snow. I thought of her
as shadow, unlaced, or a body

beached on the coastline of some exotic sadness


Call your demon by its true name, and you will be set free—[Pneumata Akatharta]
isn’t this what we’ve always wanted? A perfect translation
for the language of the unreal—our mother’s signature in ink

I have reconstructed a timeline of events:

at approximately 1:30 pm on a Friday
my brother and I slid off the road
and into a tree. We were less than a mile
from home. My father was at work.
My mother was ironing.

I know where my sister was, but I have never asked. We do not save
our stories in our mouths.[Each experience enters by its own door

and is stored up in the memory]—which is to say:

This is the nature
of separateness, which is to say:

I will never hear how the rain hit pavement that day exactly
as my sister heard it.

No one picked me up from school —I remember
the parking lot and the rain. They told me you and James
had been in an accident. I listened through the door
but no one said you were alive.



To say a thing is stranded is to say it has been abandoned, meaning: left behind
by something else

for years she’d been threatening to unbutton her skin. Half in place—
she was a door

at war with its frame.


Siblings have 99.95% genetic commonality—scientists call this overlap
but that’s all it is. It is impossible for two people to inhabit the same space—

but only at the same time [All things have a beginning, which we can regard as their mother. Knowing the mother, we can know its children]
To say I belong is to say I fit, I exist,

meaning: I am in my right place—knowing this

it is strange to think we use the phrase belongings to name everything we cannot pull
through our gates. Scientists have proven that walking through doorways

is a catalyst for forgetting. Just once, I would like to know what it is not to be at odds
with the outside world.


After she asked the question, we sat together at the kitchen table for a long time

and I began to think of our house as a living thing—the whine
of wood and brick: less

a shiver and more a sigh—the sound of skin and limb as it settles into a set of arms.
At some point, everyone deserves to be held this way.

I remember, she looked the way she did at sixteen:

as if she’d been tipped over, her architecture
a flood on the bathroom floor, intentional
trouble, a widening in the drained blue
of her eyes. She used to smell like horses.

Just then, I had wanted to walk over to the window and press my palm to the pane,
to leave a trace of my skin on another surface—I had wanted to understand

what the glass kept outside. I had been trying to un-hear
each breath
of brick and wood—I had been trying to feel

where I was not.


If I could go back, I would tell my sister:

All I do is wonder what I might have been
if it had never happened—how much of me

was there from the beginning, before
I was opened, the gloved hands inside

my chest and stomach. Taking parts
away, and stitching me closed.

I imagine her waiting in the parking lot long after
all the cars had disappeared.

That’s when I started to feel it—she said—this separateness

I imagine her speaking from a different frequency, the rest of us
deep in conversation, and her—listening
from another room

image2Samantha Deal is a poet, essayist, and editor from Boone, North Carolina. She holds a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill and an MFA from UNC-Wilmington. Currently, she is working towards her PhD at Western Michigan University—where she teaches undergraduate literature/writing courses, serves as a nonfiction editor for the literary journal, Third Coast, and reads for New Issues Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Word Riot, Sonora Review, Rattle, The Boiler, Ninth Letter Online, and other journals. Samantha has been a finalist for the Mississippi Review Poetry Prize, The Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, The Anhinga Press Robert Dana Prize, The OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize, and Zone 3’s First Book Award. A swimming enthusiast and lover of all-things-water, Samantha divides her time between Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. She lives and works with her dog, a puggle named Mimsy. You can follow her (and her dog) @SammyLeeDeal