“In the distance, a gunshot” is the ending line of the first poem in Samantha Deflitch’s collection, Confluence. When a gunshot rings out, one subconsciously suspects different scenarios. Someone had a successful hunt. Someone is playing target practice. Maybe a race is starting. A disagreement between two gangs turned south. A home-invader was caught and stopped. For Samantha Deflitch, it was the sound of the beginning of deep wondering. About what it means to grow old, about the strangeness of human habit, and about why a boy she knew named John decided to take his life with a bullet. Confluence is a beautiful and hauntingly written story where each piece can stand alone, but as the work progresses, the reader realizes each chapter builds on the last. Deflitch allows us powerful glimpses into the scenes of her life in Pittsburgh and unveils the tragic loss behind that lone, echoing gunshot.
The first poem, “Downed Birds,” introduces us to some of the recurring themes throughout the book’s entirety: birds, oranges, the time being seven-something in the evening, aging. Deflitch notices small things everywhere in the city and sees herself in unexpected places. In “Unfenced,” she sees herself in a dead frog run over in the street. In “Crossing the Hot Metal Street Bridge,” she sees herself in an old woman yelling prophecies. In “Turnpike Toll-Taker,” she sees herself in the red-ringed eyes of drivers heading west on the highway. Always in these mirror-images, Deflitch uses the repetition of “me, me!” to make it seem like she just came to the realization that she is part of the thing she observes. Deflitch studies how she compares to and fits in with miniscule details of earth, and because she notices these intricacies for a moment in time, she becomes part of something outside herself. Not only does Deflitch find herself in unique existences around her hometown, she hears herself echoed in silence and in other people’s voices, such as her mother’s and her grandmother’s in a dream. Her words remind us that everything is connected, even when we get wrapped up in our own worlds.
Even though Confluence is about Pittsburgh, readers can relate to one’s own hometown when Deflitch writes about certain gas stations she frequents, the local Macy’s department store, her father waiting for her to buckle her seat belt, Taco Bell and Christmas music. We all have our own versions of these memories. Beginning the second chapter, Deflitch uses the same line as the first poem from chapter one: “I peeled open an orange.” Maybe she expects the fruit to be different- not rotten inside this time like the last. Deflitch is navigating a city that changes each day, but also stays the same in many ways.
Deflitch’s simple statements and detailed descriptions about everyday things make one stop and ponder how strange human habits are. This is exhibited strongly in the piece “Laundromat in Irwin,” where Deflitch finds herself watching the royal wedding on loop while waiting for her wash. As she waits, she gets a sense that the air is heavy as she contemplates how she “did not graduate from anything, or get married, or find a job today”- all milestones carved by society to measure success. And yet, the pressure of these expectations seems trivial to an artist who lives with a keen awareness of mortality and its limits.
In a later chapter titled “Ohio,” Deflitch revisits many of her earlier poems with a powerful piece called “Come Out, All You Moths.” Suddenly, each small scene and memory starts forming to center around John. There is an explanation between the lines for her fascination of what it means to grow old and why she imagined herself as the elderly woman yelling prophecies in the beginning of the book: “To grow old means really nothing / because I am growing old and the dog / is growing old and my parents / are growing old and John is not – / why? Because he didn’t want to.” A simple answer to a throbbing, painful question leads to the next theme in Deflitches writing – a search for miracles.
The loneliness of a Midwestern winter is a despair I can relate to in “Giuseppe,” when Deflitch wrote that her father’s barber referred to Midwestern sunsets as “stark, sad things.” Being from Michigan, I know how little sunlight these states get from October to May, and how restless it can make a girl. As Detflitch watched a small bit of sunset from a school parking lot with bus exhaust catching the light, she concluded “other places have miracles in the night.” This idea is followed up later in “Extra Omnes,” where she begins the poem by stating “I heard you moved / to cornfields near me, or near / where I once lived before / I left to find a miracle.” It seems that Deflitch escaped her home town for a while, and met a lover somewhere on the coast. She begins referring to a woman she loved, referencing the sea, salt, and “crepuscular wonders.”
Perhaps Deflitch found a true connection away from Pittsburgh, but never quite escaped the ghost of John, who she remembers watching Pulp Fiction with, and keeps writing about him from different time frames following the tragedy. Deflitch almost seems to detach herself describing the scenes before John’s body was discovered, stating “A woman’s voice echoes. / She has called the police. / She is crying that John has gone missing. / This sort of thing happens. / Neither she nor the police yet know / that John has put a bullet in his head,” as if to try and make sense of the words herself. Deflitch is unafraid to address raw topics, and her unique voice and style choice of shorter prose is thoroughly effective in yielding emotional gut punches throughout the collection while keeping the reader hooked.
The building up and interweaving of particular objects, moments and days in Deflitch’s life tell a stirring story of loss while offering hope in the simple beauty of a girl’s life as she navigates through the mundane and holy. Throughout Confluence, Deflitch reminds us of how we all try to make sense of and come to peace with things far out of our control. She teaches us how to appreciate the lessons that come with each season of recovery and transition, and how something as innocent as peeling an orange or watching a bird can hold the depth of epiphany. The book is a welcomed reminder to cherish the people whose paths cross ours – briefly as acquaintances or coworkers, and over the course of our lives as family members, friends and lovers – for time yields to no one and everything around us will one day pass.
Emily DeYoung is a student of the world from Michigan, who travels as often as possible. She has been to over 25 countries since graduating high school, and uses the people, places, and small moments she experiences for inspiration when writing. Emily has one published poetry collection, How the Wind Calls the Restless, which won first place in the Writer’s Digest 30th Annual Self-Published Book Awards Contest last year (2021). She loves reading memoir, camping, large dogs who think they are lap-sized, and listening to classic and punk rock.