It was the cherry-time of the summer season,
and you were gone—and back—in the breath of a year.
The posters on the walls warned of spies, and treason,
and the sins of idleness. You spoke not of fear,
of loss, but instead: dancing, drinks, shore leave -
of when we could be like other couples again,
sedately married, with no need for Navy reprieve.
I bobbed my hair in eager anticipation
of reunion, and opened your letters with knives
kept sharp to protect the flimsy paper inside.
In May, the letters stopped coming. Were you alive
or dead? Only in June did the Navy decide
to tell me to grow my hair out again. A note
(unfinished, in your kit) told me of a present
given you from another soldier. Then you wrote
of love, death, and war—then left the letter unsent,
waiting for Stephen to find, crumpled, in your gear.
His invitation arrived as the pumpkins grew,
marmalade-glossy, at the exhale of the year.
Would it be possible—him, the ship…? For me to
come to the port for a night of dance and memory?
My lack of reply served as sufficient answer.
I arrived in afternoon; low heels, dress flimsy,
prepared for a quiet dinner, nothing after.
Dinner led to drinks, and drinks to dance, and then I,
the widow, the girl, walked across to the hotel,
the pool, and—at last—to bed. Stephen was alive
when you were not, and it was my choice: to revel
in December life, instead of mourning your death.
Afterward, he traced the line of a missing ring
and offered to give me your gift. With one small breath
I could have refused, but instead I chose to bring
present to past and back again. Pale silk, they were;
seamed, delicate, glowing silver-soft in his hand.
He drew back the rough sheets and prepared to confer
the gift from a dead soldier-boy, another land.
An extended foot, followed by a dainty roll
of silk, and hands, and hotel light; and then, he said—
later—"After the war, you should give me a call."
Although he left me his number, I never did.
* * * *
(So, it occurred to me that, way back when, the best thing to give your girl in a time of rationing and shortage was a pair of coveted silk stockings. But what happens to a gift when the giver is gone, but the gift is not yet given? I suppose, if you're a lucky girl, someone else comes along and makes sure the gift gets where it's supposed to be.)