Old Love
by Henry Howard

Their old love began when they were young,
He: a soldier, lonely and crew-cut and tall,
She: a gangly adolescent sunflower
On the cusp of womanhood.

Perhaps the darkness of the dance-floor brought hidden courage,
For the girl at last did
What she had only dared to dream of.
Clasping her hands behind her soldier’s neck,
She lowered his head and drew their lips together,
Hoping the memory would help to keep him alive in distant lands.

Mail can be delivered even in the midst of bombs,
And fervent letters helped the soldier,
Holding the thin sheets of paper to his heart
And pressing to his lips the golden locket of hair
Lovingly taped above the woman’s name.

The soldier’s words, in turn, helped the girl,
Who was now a woman,
Fingers deftly working the gleaming metal presses of a welding plant,
Making the vital parts for ships
That would carry her soldier to far-off battles
And, someday, home.

Time and distance are relentless foes of brief encounters.
War and fate scattered the man and woman
To different lives,
And the precious love letters stayed in secret boxes,
Unopened yet somehow never left behind.

As the years advanced,
The soldier and the woman were pulled like a magnet
To the same great city,
And grew old a scant mile apart,
Walking lonely avenues on separate paths
That never quite met.

At last there was a nursing home,
With an old woman who rested in the lounge before her simple lunch,
Weeping a little for the husband who had died,
For the children who had grown up and moved on,
For the memory of love’s brief flare
Before war extinguished the candle, but never the flame.

An old man, perhaps seeking a companion
To share his vegetable soup,
Approached with a twinkle in his eye.
She, distracted for a moment from her private wounds,
Turned, and saw the same small gold locket
She had slipped round his neck at that long-ago dance.

He, puzzled by the look on her face,
Opened the locket, with its picture of her.
He had worn it close to his heart,
And believed no bullets could strike him there.

The woman reached up and touched the old man’s locket,
Then his cheek, his brow.
“Adam, my Adam!” she whispered, again and again,
And he in turn called out her name,
Then held his Catherine just the way
They had long ago danced together in the dark.

Though it was now the twilight of their lives,
They understood why that time was called the “Golden Years.”
And in that time still left to them,
They danced again beneath the cool, dark trees
By the little stream,
In the golden glow of a first, old love
Now grown so new.

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