New Old Love

May 24, 2012

I stopped in time to let them pass – the young girl on her beach cruiser and the handsome boy pedaling behind her. They waved at me, happy. Not the least bent out of shape that I’d infringed on their right of way, slammed my brakes so we didn’t collide. I watched them ride ahead, her cotton blouse billowing in the wind as she glanced over her shoulder to see where he was. He stood off the frame, leaned forward and pedaled faster, the two of them laughing as he raced to catch up.

Young love, I thought.

And I remembered what it was like. Those plutonic days when I saw my husband across the parking lot and hoped we would talk. The ticket stub I saved from our first date. The autumn leaf I pressed between pages – a token of our afternoon together. The electricity of his hand slipping into mine.

Last Friday we celebrated our anniversary.

After passing the baton (a plastic serving spoon) to our babysitters and sitting down in the restaurant, I apologized. I didn’t have a gift. I hadn’t even had time to look up the traditional gift for fourteen years. (We like to give traditional anniversary gifts. Or a silly variation on the theme.)

When I told my husband as much he calmly replied, “That’s okay. Because you have one more year to figure it out.”

“You mean we’ve been married thirteen years?” I asked, eyes wide. I hadn’t done the math. I hadn’t remembered it right. But it didn’t matter. We just laughed and ordered from the menu.

Our love isn’t new anymore, it’s approaching middle-aged. But with a decade-plus behind us, there’s more texture to our relationship, more richness. A safety and acceptance sustain us that didn’t during our first kiss. We know everything about each other (good, bad, and ugly) and that simultaneously expands and simplifies our love. Yet, when he puts both arms around me, I still flutter – surprised that our old love can occasionally feel new.

Below is one of my favorite poems by Ellen Bass. You decide if it’s about old or new love.  Either way, the romantic in me nods and agrees with Bass,  “I want to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body.”

Gate C22

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching–
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after–if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now–you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

Have you ever loved or been loved like this? Tell us about a new love, old love, or new-old love in your life. And I’m curious, what’s your favorite image/detail in Bass’s poem?

Photo courtesy of Michelle Lehnardt


  1. Magpie

    May 24, 2012

    Beautiful. I love “his smile soft with wonder”. What a great descriptive poem.

    I can honestly say, coming up on 25 years of marriage, I feel that way. My heart still skips a beat when I think of my husband. I love it when he walks in the door from work.

    If anyone would have told me when I was 22 that I could be so in love with a balding, graying man who is carrying a bit too much around the mid section – I would have laughed at them, but, here I am. Totally in love with a man who looks nothing like the man of my youthful dreams, and yet he far surpasses them!

    Of course we have lived a normal, crazy life of ups and downs, but we decided a long time ago we were committed to each other. We love to be together. My only hope is that our children find the same kind of love.

  2. Kellie aka Selwyn

    May 24, 2012

    Oh, Cath, the first time I read that poem I cried. Such a beautiful piece of writing.

    My favourite line is “We could
    taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.” With “his smile soft with wonder, almost
    as though he were a mother still open from giving birth” and But they kissed lavish
    kisses like the ocean in the early morning” a close equal second.

    Thank you for sharing the possibility of new/old love in such a stunning way.

  3. Saydi

    May 24, 2012

    wow, what a poem. Thanks so much for sharing.

    How beautiful to love and be loved in that way. My favorite bit, of course, is the line “his smile soft with wonder, almost as though he were a mother still open from giving birth.” I can identify with that kind of love right now and I like to think about how that powerful love i felt during those after birth moments can translate into my love for my husband. Have I looked at him that same way lately? No, but I should.

  4. Andrea R.

    May 24, 2012

    Last night I watched my husband play drums and sing in his band — the first show he’s played in a long time. Suddenly I was the 20-something sitting in a smoky bar falling in love with the drummer all over again. For an instant the weight of 15 years, the joy, the pain, the bills, the three kids, the house, the cars, everything vanished. It was just me and him and being in love.

  5. Kristen Morris

    May 24, 2012

    I love how the poem was set in a place we are all quite familiar with. I could picture the whole thing, how it would feel to watch and how it would feel to be the middle aged woman.

  6. Kris

    May 24, 2012

    My husband and I have been married almost three years now and we have one small daughter. My love is a young one that sometimes feels old. Some days it seems like I’m playing dress up in someone else’s romantic fantasy and some days like I’ve been in love so long I could walk the paces of my life blindfolded. I like this poem because it’s both facets of my life. The dressed up girl that can’t believe her luck and the routine mother that gets lost in the dailies.

    “Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
    She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish..”

    This scene paints pictures real. The picture of me and my husband, in an airport or grocery store, or at home on the front steps after our evening walk. Just me and him kissing hard and holding on tight. A baby in my one free arm–dangling–but not forgotten. I am both the woman being kissed and the woman watching. Caught up in these stranger kisses–touched by love without ever having been touched.

    A picture of a synchronized moment of joy between my body and soul. A kiss that sweeps me up and out into the world–my soul experiencing the connection of true love–a reflection of stability and safety. And the kiss that awakens every nerve and a mind so conscious that I can feel the hairs on my neck tingle and my toes stretch out–electrified. A kiss that fights back the dragons of my life.

    “…We were all watching…We couldn’t look away. We could taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.”

    These times seem fewer now, but are still there without having to reach out far.

  7. Sarah H.

    May 24, 2012

    The subject and poem made me think of a quote by Victor Hugo, “Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.”
    I recently was given a book titled, “What I Love About You.” The book prompts and the reader gets to fill in the blanks about the person they love. I have been filling in the blanks in this book and it has given me the opportunity to look back at my relationship and remember all the reasons I fell in love. I think this is kind of like your Old-New type of love.

  8. Jules

    May 24, 2012

    Never been loved like this before, but this poem could have been written watching my parents. When I was younger, my siblings and I all reacted with the predictable “Ewwww” whenever my parents behaved like the couple in the poem. But now that we’re older, I think it’s what we all want.

    I tell my dad all the time that he “ruined” our expectations of what a marriage should look like. 🙂

    Love this poem…will definitely add it to my list of poems to share with my students next year!

  9. honey

    May 24, 2012

    After a combined 4 bad marriages, my husband and I married 24 years ago. We could be the couple in the poem. I’m in my 60’s he’s in his 70’s and everyday I feel just like I did when I first fell in love at 14. Separations are so long, even when they only last a couple of days. I think we embarrass our kids, but I hope for all nine of them that they are as blessed!

  10. CS Eric

    May 24, 2012


    That quote describes me as I look back on my 23 years with my wife. A few months before she died, she told her sister that she hoped I would be able to find someone else–some of her last words to me were similar. I am pretty confident that I could find someone else to love if I wanted to. What I can’t imagine is finding someone who would love me as much as she did. A year later and I am still finding notebooks where she did things like doodle our initials in a heart.

    About two weeks ago I found a collage she made, taking words, letters and pictures out of magazines, spelling our our names and the words “lucky”, “love”, and “happiness.” We had our new love, and we were on our way to the old love.

  11. Janice

    May 24, 2012

    Loved this poem. Here is a blog post by Lee Woodruff called “the Pang” on the same subject. Worth reading and sharing.

  12. Catherine A.

    May 24, 2012

    Such wonderful comments. All of them. I’ve been away from the computer all day, gallavanting about with my family, and am just coming to the desk to read your thoughts.

    Magpie – “here I am. Totally in love with a man who looks nothing like the man of my youthful dreams, and yet he far surpasses them!” Such a sweet sentiment to share. And your favorite phrase “his smile soft with wonder” won most of us over too.

    Kellie – I worried this might be a difficult read, especially on the heels of your grief post. But, per your usual self, you rise gracious and hopeful. I love the “kisses crushed in our mouths” phrase too. And you know I want you to hold out for a love like this. xo

    Saydi – I found your comment so moving. These childbearing years have us understanding Bass’s imagery in a very deep way. But this point you made, “Have I looked at him [my husband] that same way lately? No, but I should” will stay with me. Love you friend.

    Andrea – How I want some backstory from you. I’m convinced more and more that your life would make a fabulous movie. Do you have a screenplay in the works? 😉 Love the thought of you listening to your husband drum while you fall in love all over again.

    Kristen – yes, the familiarity of Bass’s setting is what makes her poem so accessible to us. We’ve all been there, known all the details, but wrapped up in such a scene? I love the aproned lady icing cinnabons. Thanks for reading. xo

    Kris – my goodness, your comment was stunning. Have you submitted to our journal? If not, you ought to. Your paragraph that began, “This scene paints pictures real…” was absolutely beautiful. And the idea of a kiss that “fights back the dragons of life”? I know that kiss, that feeling. You described it wonderfully. Thank you for sharing here.

    Sarah H – what an excellent quote from Hugo and a wonderful idea – about the book you are “writing.” I’d like to find a copy. Your comment reminded me of something I heard a wise woman teach recently, that might seem in contrast with your Hugo quote, but I think it’s actually saying the same thing, just in a different way. She said it is more important to love than be loved. There is wisdom there. I find if I can contrate more on loving (like you illustrated), I am more content in my relationships. I feel no dissatisfaction and I feel… loved.

    Jules – ah, if we could all have parents like yours. That kind of love really blesses a family.

    Honey – I love your perspective. And the gift of love you’ve found. I would guess as we find ourselves in later years, a strong, happy love is what we want most for your children. Thanks for your insight.

    CS Eric – You were definitely blessed with a wonderful woman. Such tender tokens to be discovering day to day. Thank you for your honest sharing. And this? “I am pretty confident that I could find someone else to love if I wanted to. What I can’t imagine is finding someone who would love me as much as she did.” Wow. Hang on to that old love…

    Janice – Thanks for the delightful link. Could there be a more perfect word than “schizzle?” I’m adding it to my repretoire. Definitely worth reading and sharing. Thank you.

  13. annegb

    May 25, 2012

    I woke up thinking about this poem and wondering where I’d read it!

    Judith Viorst said “marriage is what keeps you together while you fall in and out of love with each other.”

    When you are married a long time, you become a part of each other in a way that seems like you’ve developed the same cells and genes and blood. And you fall in love with each other again.

  14. Natsy

    May 25, 2012

    I adore this. I’m still waiting for a love like that. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Lisa G.

    May 25, 2012

    I know that gate. That’s my home airport. So the images are very clear and real. “We could taste the kisses crushed in our mouth.” Delicious!
    Yes, I’ve loved/been loved like that. I miss it.

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