My sister was born one minute before me.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to catch her.
When I’m overwhelmed by the city’s taxicabs
and mirrors and prophets shouting in the park,
I want to close myself like an atlas
and hide on a shelf in some dark hallway.
But my sister laughs with cab drivers
and says to the prophet, I like your hat.
She says to mirrors, Looking good.
Together, we are more than two pairs of hands.
We are one song played on two guitars—
a song our father sang when he was our age.
This tune is so rehearsed that even as we
move through different parts of the world,
when one of us thinks of the other, we both
pause in our steps, the breath catching
in our throats like wind in subway tunnels.
We had a word for milk left in the bowl
after cereal, and one for the plastic leg
in Papa’s closet. We had a word for
our father’s belt. But writing them here
would be a betrayal worse than revealing
she’d cheated on the SAT. Worse than,
say, printing her actual weight and bra size,
or claiming she waited ten weeks
for her period after a one night stand.
Like the soul, twin speak might ignite
at conception. It’s why we jabbered
at mirrors, and knew how long to hide
from our Japanese grandmother,
who frowned as she blew her harmonica
in the backyard, her song a train
crawling out of town. Now, it’s how I know
to answer the phone before it rings. It’s why
my husband thinks I’m keeping secrets.
Our twin speak had to evolve over time—
even children feel shame in nonsense.
We replaced our gibberish with English,
but flipped the meanings of words. So,
when she calls and says, Don’t be a beetle,
only I know for sure whether she means:
I could never love him as much as you,
or, It’s not fair you’re so far away.
In Italy, my sister bathed
in hot springs with strangers—
local men with names
like Nico and Benedetto,
guys who wore tight trunks
and knew how to use their tongues,
could untie haltertops
before girls even realized
where their hands had gone.
And those village men
would whisper anything
to keep a sweetness warm.
Their promises glistened
like my twin’s moonlit skin.
Who could blame her
for taking what they gave?
I nodded as she spoke, her voice
a verse I’d never heard
to a song I knew by heart.
All her life she was half a person:
one arm, one leg, one kidney.
She learned to run taking every other step.
Strangers in supermarkets stared.
Nobody could tell where this girl
ended and her sister began.
On picture day in second grade,
all the starch-collared kids fidgeted
while the photographer barked,
Stand still! Say mozzarella!
So she stood as still as she could in her
one lace sock, one patent leather shoe.
When the photographer’s bulb flashed,
the class bully bonked her head against
her sister’s. She felt the hurt twice,
and heard twice the solid clop
of two coconuts thumped together.
The pounding pulsed in her left ear.
And later, when it came time for
kissing, she took what she could get
from boys as desperate as she.
And every night, as she slept
on her side of the bed, she dreamed
of a birthday cake with only one name.
Sara Hughes lives in McDonough, Georgia. She often writes about her experience as an identical twin. Her work has been published in Rattle, Rosebud, Reed, Red Clay Review, The Oklahoma Review, West Trade Review, Review Americana, Southern Literary Review, and Arts and Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture, among others. She recently earned her PhD in English from Georgia State University, and she teaches for Mercer University.