ME conversen, fr. MF converser, fr. L conversari to live, keep company with, fr. conversus, pp. of convertere to turn around
(Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary)
They’ve been talking for hours. Their conversation has passed through the usual stages of new acquaintances who find they hold many views in common: first the tenuous feeling out, the cautious groping for just the right word or phrase. As trust builds, the pleasure they feel in each other’s company gathers momentum. Nervous laughs give way to easy laughter, and their faces take on a kind of glow. Constant smiling loosens limbs as well as tongues. Initial motions of the head and hand gradually give way to full-body participation, bending from the hips, shifting slowly about in their seats like two trees in the grip of a single wind. It is a wholly improvised and unselfconscious dance; any audience – the stray eavesdropper or barista – is entirely incidental. They scarcely notice how often they talk over top of each other, how frequently they switch positions as the conversation veers madly from one topic to the next.
As connections are multiplied and reinforced, they draw closer and their conversation slows, deepens. They are listening intently, now, and speaking in turn. Grammatically normative sentence structure atrophies, leaving short-but-potent phrases, even single words buoyed by a laugh or expressive gesture, linguistic fragments swimming free in an ocean of light. They each glimpse apprehension in this new, provisional mirror, a joy that is afraid to speak its own name because how can you affix an identity to something so open, so almost not there?
They hang back as long as they can, reveling – then more than reveling. A kind of awe comes over them. The conversation ceases not because words are inadequate, but because they are no longer necessary. With the labyrinth behind them, why cling to the thread? Such a roundabout way to go to arrive at silence!
[an old poem]
She set her empty bottle down against mine without looking so they would rock together, ringing–whether with a peal or a toll I couldn’t tell. So that even before the words of welcome & the first fumbling for the right place, well in advance of the mingled cries and blessings, I would feel my skin turn to sky & my bones to living water.
Because her eyes held that exact and painful blue one only encounters over country churches–I mean those clapboard firetraps whose belfries offer sanctuary to the long-limbed owls, pale as Puritan angels, that go about their business at odd hours rarely observed in the modern liturgy. Except when some bored child, slipping under the pews, picks up a white wing feather missed by the custodian’s broom.
Let’s watch him as he waves it over his head, running up to the pulpit to show the startled minister. Whose flock shifts uneasily, the old pews creaking, Adam’s apples trembling on scented necks.
* * *
Isn’t every conversation a potential conversion? In order to truly live together in what is called harmony, don’t we need to be continually turning about, looking at things through the eyes of another, converting strangers into friends?