Who can argue with the power of love to transform, sustain or revive us? The energy and strength that we derive from our most meaningful relationships often fuels the very essence of our life force.

by Kathryn Winograd

What is old love? a friend of mine asked me recently, her husband having left her and her children some years ago. How can I answer her? How can I describe for her all the nights beside you now, all the nights listening to your quiet sleep, listening to our children's, until the last stillness, until the gray break of dawn, and the mourning dove beneath the eaves sings, the world around us still slick with the old breath of the moon?

Sometimes I think it is a matter of planting and that we begin the planting before the planting, each moment seeding the next, as today it is our daughters' hands, starfish in this late ocean of February light, that begin this.

Here, I say to them, and smooth their curled fingers down, my motherthumb pausing so briefly at those new lifelines crossed, hatched over (too faint, I fear, too swerved, too soon). Foxglove, morning glory, the evening's primrose, even I am surprised at what spills out of these white envelopes — dust more than seed the wind stirs. (You are here, faintly now, more morning shade, lips that brushed the air.) I press my fingers into the flats, dent the shallow bowls seed will fill. Carefully, unsteadily, our daughters pinch at each seed, let each flutter down. I smell their skin, the backs of their necks, each with your small ducktail of hair. They give me kisses. They throw their arms around me, smile, bury themselves against me who once was their hollow earth, as I am still yours.

What is old love? my friend has asked me. I remember as a child the pines that stood at my mother's and father's back porch, the two of them taller than the house, than any leafed tree. I knew them as masts, as the coved sea rustling at the lip of the conch, as one gold wave of wheat sounding. Theirs was a blue rain of needles, and I would kneel beneath them, my planted knees criss-crossed with easy scars, all around me in the wind's shove the gold pollen shaking down and the bearing cone, hard-petalled.

What is old love? I am wanting to tell my friend about these trees. I am wanting to tell her how I know you would have loved them too, how always you stand with me in the blue shadow beneath them, touching their gold loss.

What is old love? Night angles in through the long pine shadows. Soon, evening's scent — garlic, onion, yeast — will float upon winter's air, seep out into the garage to greet you. And, then, you are there, the door's crack, and our children wrapped like happy tendrils around your legs.

Tonight? we ask. Tonight? There — that question all evening above the bath's steam, the nursery book, the children nuzzled damp and warm against our cheeks. And then the lights turned, dark of winter, whispers of our children's breathings down the hall, all our long lighted days, familiar warmth — these, our blossoming.

Kathryn Winograd is an essayist and poet whose work has appeared in numerous publications. She is the recipient of the 1998 Colorado Artist Fellowship in Literature for Poetry.