Friday, September 20, 2013

Conversation Piece

Sarah sat at a desk with Anne
For a whole school year, before life began.
They spoke about teachers and friends and TV,
They spoke about everything endlessly.
They would walk home together from school, and when
They were home they would phone and start talking again.
They would pass notes in class. The hours in a day
Were too few for all that they had to say.

Then life happened. Sarah’s family
Moved to Canada, and she didn’t see
Anne for a decade. Anne married the year
She qualified as an engineer.
Sarah drifted from job to job
And from Harvey to Philip and Scott to Bob
Until one day, between jobs and men,
She got on a plane to see Ireland again.

They met in the Marigold café
Where they used to go on a Saturday.
Anne recognized Sarah right away
And they sat down to croissants and café au lait.

They talked about Canada, marriage, work
And whatever happened to Deirdre Burke.
They laughed about boy bands breaking up
But by time Anne filled her second cup
The memories of their twelve shared years
Were drying up like a schoolgirl’s tears.

“I like your ear-rings”. “Oh, thanks.” “So how
Is your father doing?” “He’s happier now.”

Around them, at table on table, the sea
Of conversation lapped easily.
Anne looked at Sarah, and Sarah at Anne,
Trying to see the Nirvana fan
Or the girl who hid in the teacher’s room
But she wasn’t there. A delicate gloom
Hung over the bright Left Bank décor.
How on Earth had they spoken so much before?
Two people with only ghosts in common—
A friendship lost between girl and woman.
Two strangers sitting in some café—
There is always too much or too little to say.

Note: The inspiration for this poem was when an old schoolfriend of mine told me that she and her best friend in class used to walk home talking all the way and then phone each other as soon as they got home. That little anecdote struck me for so many reasons; the sweetness and intimacy of girlhood and female friendships, something that is really foreign to friendships between males; the memory of being tremendously shy as a child and wondering what people spoke about to their friends, and the anxiety that I would have nothing to say in the same situation; meeting people you haven't seen for many years and realizing that you have less to say, despite the fact that you have years of different experiences to share, then when you saw each other every day; and a general fascination with what people talk about to each other. When I went on a pre-marriage course with my fianceé, there was an "open" session where the moderators stepped back and let the participants ask questions of the group. My question was: "What do you actually talk about to each other?" I was frightened my topic would be a damp squib (the questions were written on pieces of paper, put in a bowl and read out anonymously) but it led to a lot of discussion. Thankfully, I haven't had any dearth of things to talk about with Michelle!


  1. When you talk to someone that you used to know well but haven't talked with in years it's a bit like the awkwardness of talking to a stranger, but slightly different. It's a bit like meeting a stranger, except you think you have to be held to a certain standard since you already know each other. I'm not sure if what I said makes sense but I've been in the position above, though the time since I last spoke to old friends wasn't as long as in the above poem.

  2. It's a very weird sensation. I always think you should have MORE to talk about, because you have all the stuff that's happened to both of you since last time you spoke-- but somehow it doesn't work out like that.