"Sister" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
What the water wants is hurricanes,
And sailboats to ride on its back.
What the water wants is sun kiss,
And land to run into and back.
I have a fish stone burning my elbow,
Reminding me to know I'm glad
That I have a bottle filled with my own teeth.
They fell out like a tear in the bag.
And I have a sister in Detroit.
She has black hair and small hands.
And I have a kettledrum.
I'll hit the earth with you.
And I will crochet you a hat.
And I have a red kite;
I'll put you right in it.
I'll show you the sky.

Lyrics submitted by EvilPopkin

"Sister" as written by Sufjan Stevens


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Sister song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentThe lyrics talk about the sea running into the land and back - which is a very elemental phenomenon. Some lines later they very tenderly describe Sufjan's sister's small hands as a tiny and fragile detail. Again he states that she lives "somewhere" in Detroit, creating a feeling of something vulnerable being lost within something big or, maybe even endless...
    Both, the lyrics and the music of the song, express this contrast: chaotic, powerful dissonance on the one hand; vulnerability and tenderness on the other.
    This song tells us how small and tiny and how weak we are, compared to the huge waves of life. It hints to some greater power or principle, that we don't fully understand, just like the disharmonic chords in the first part of the song, that seem a little "chaotic".
    But surprinsingly, within the huge and waving sounds, Sufjan creates a fragile moment of peace and rest, reminding us of the small things in life. Isn't the red kite the perfect metaphor of something small being lost within something huge? Still it's the small piece of paper that gets torn around by the forces of nature that gives us hope and joy.
    The quiet and tender part of the song wouldn't create such an impressive atmophere if it would not stand in front of the darker and more powerful first part. Like a ray of light escaping a sky filled with dark and threatening clouds....
    yogolokion August 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love this song. I think that it's a gorgeous combination of electric and acoustic. It flows very well - with the culmination of the instrumental section that leads very well into the calmness of the vocal part.
    stellaluna1125on October 14, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI too find that electric guitar harmony it bejust beautiful. There is something amazing about it.
    Waltyon March 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentCan someone, anyone, explain to me what a "Fish stone" is, and how one can "burn your elbow"?
    Way_AEon September 07, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDoesn't coral burn to the touch? Not that that really makes sense at all....
    steenyon January 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAfter googling the term "fish stone," I am no closer to its meaning in this song. Apparently, a fish stone is "a stone slab, raised on stone or wooden piers, used for the display of fresh fish. Usually found in market places." Also, there is a stongehenge-esque "fish stone" in Wales, that has some sort of legend behind it. Completely speculating, I wondered, "Could this be a Jesus fish Sufjan is referring to?"
    johnlempkaon January 13, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWell I'll throw out my first impression of the lyrics and maybe somebody else can help figure out what he might be talking about:

    I'm not sure why he's talking about the water, maybe it relates to the fish stone somehow, but it seems like he's talking about the things in life that make you happy.

    "What the waters wants is hurricanes"
    Hurricanes could be a metaphor excitement...

    "and sailboats to ride on its back."
    Sailboats make me think of children which is reinforced by the "ride on its back".

    "What the water wants is sun kiss,"
    Laying around in the sun is fun but more than the kiss suggests love and affection.

    and land to run into and back."
    Just like we run into the sea and back the sea does the same to land.

    "I have a fish stone burning my elbow
    reminding me to know that I'm glad"
    If you're truly glad you shouldn't need to be reminded. Not to mention "burning" doesn't seem like a happy sensation. These lines seem to suggest he isn't happy.

    "that I have a bottle filled with my own teeth.
    They fell out like a tear in the bag."
    Not really sure what this is about. Again doesn't convey a happy feeling.

    "And I have a sister somwhere in Detroit."
    The fact he knows he has a sister "somewhere" in Detroit suggests they're not close

    "She has black hair and small hands."
    The physical description is one a stranger could give. He doesn't describe her in personal terms at all again suggesting they're not close.

    "And I have a kettle drum.
    I'll hit the earth with you."
    You strike the stretched leather on a kettle drum to play it so I'm not sure why he's talking about the earth. "I'll hit the earth with you" sounds almost angry or frustrated to me.

    "And I will crochet you a hat."
    I'm not sure who "you" is but obviously making a gift for the person shows its someone he cares about. Maybe "you" is his sister (the song is called Sister) and he's hoping to (re)connect with her?

    "And I have a red kite;
    I'll put you right in it.
    I'll show you the sky."
    I'll show you the sky suggests he wants to show "you" something beautiful. It's obviously someone he cares about.
    aoeuhntson February 04, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't love the melody like i do in many other songs. The instrumental part just seems to drag on without really acheiving much. But this definitely gets better when the singing starts. I've always thought the "you" was the sister. He wants to put her in the kite and show her the sky, which could mean he wants to show her everything he's seen in the world.
    cutie_carnivoreon February 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have to agree, the vocal part is immensely better than the first instrumental section
    shadowboxingon May 25, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI feel for everyone who dislikes the beginning electric guitar part. At the same time, I feel that the whole buildup of the beginning is necessary to crash down into the tenderness of the acoustic/lyrical portion. genius.

    that said, my take on the lyrics is that the singer is looking for something that he's missing--perhaps what that is is the relationship with his sister; maybe they're estranged, but he wishes to reunite.

    the fish stone line always struck me strongly. I always imagined a simple jesus fish tattooed on the elbow, as a reminder during the dark times that the singer's happiness is found in his spiritual life. I like that image.

    Lastly, I know that Sufjan is known to crochet presents for friends, hence the last stanza. Again, the last few lines make me think that he cares about this sister (could be just someone he knows/feels a kindred spirit with).
    vividtangerineon May 31, 2006   Link

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