Friday, 10 February 2017

the invitation

I knew he had, almost certainly,
been invited to the wedding –
his family having lived two doors down
from mine – pretty much,
from the beginning of time and . . .

suddenly, there he was,
in misty halation, as though
I was seeing him through the glow
of an old Hollywood vaseline edged lens –
a speck of dust in my eye, perhaps.

he noticed me then, and smiled
in that off-kilter way he had –
his head tipped in the same direction
as his lips . . . though, his eyes, I thought
– or did I imagine it  –
flashed a shot of sadness
that, momentarily, belied,
his affable howdy-neighbour grin.

I smiled back, of course,
and waving nonchalantly,
speed walked to the exit . . .
all the might-have-beens:
wide awake now,  screaming
GO BACK . . .

outside . . . I paused momentarily,
and let the smell of azaleas
waft round me – carrying me back
to that long ago sunshine summer
before we left for college, and life began . . .
for real

The Backstory (for Valentine's Day):  I’m sure that all of you have had the experience of someone sharing a part of their life with you, that you find very impactful and compelling.  This poem came out of a story that was shared with me several years ago by a new employee in my workplace (though I wrote the piece from the perspective of a woman).  He was new to the job (which was somewhat unusual as he appeared to be in his mid 50’s); he was new to the country (and as it turned out); he was newly wed.  When I remarked that that was a lot of new beginnings, all at once, he replied that it was “all good” and that he was in a very happy place.  He went on to explain that he had just married the girl he was engaged to almost 40 years ago.  They were both 17 and needed their parents’ permission.  Given the dismal statistics on teenage marriage, both sets of parents were adamantly opposed.  However, a compromise was struck:  if they would agree to go to separate universities in separate cities for 18 months, their parents would consider giving their support, if they still wanted to marry.

When you are young, 18 months is a long, long time – and, eventually, the relationship went the way of military service, an apprenticeship in another country . . . and life.  However, as their families continued to live in the same homes, in one of those, very close, old American suburbs on a street that people only leave when they die – every few years there would be a wedding, or a funeral and the two of them would find themselves staring at each other across a crowded room . . . watching the other grow older, with each reunion.  Eventually, after his children were grown, he and his wife decided to divorce.  Sometime later, her father passed away and – as he worked in the nearby “big city”, he attended the funeral.  At the end of the service, as he waited to pay his respects, a woman standing beside him remarked:  what a horrible couple of years for that family . . . first her husband and now her Dad.
Well, I guess the rest of the story, writes itself.  When he shared this with me, I remarked:  What must that have been like: seeing each other over so many years, and having to walk away, time after time.  And he replied:  every time I saw her, the-might-have-beens started up, all over again.

That phrase – the-might-have-beens – has stuck with me, ever since.  Perhaps, that is because I met my one-and-only when I had just turned 18 . . . and I never let go.  Smiles.
note:  the poem is published in the Tower Poetry Journal (Tower Poetry Society, est. 1951) Volume 65, #2, 2016.

photo:  The House Two Doors Down – W. Bourke

© 2017 Wendy Bourke 


  1. What a wonderful and thought-provoking Valentine's Day poem, Wendy. I think we all have those 'might have beens' that live in the back of our matter how happy our lives have turned out, there are things that we wonder about...what would have happened if....?

  2. wonderful...after reading the backstory I read the poem again just to be with the characters you've so lovingly sketched...

  3. Oh this reminds me of the book Love in the time of Cholera.. sometimes love beats life at its own game! Beautiful story.

  4. This is a wonderful story. One that proves that reality is better than fiction sometimes. I love poems telling a story.

  5. Both the story and the poem are very deeply romantic. Maybe lovers who've been separated by the machinations of fate always eventually find each other again.

  6. Even after all my years I still think of the 'what ifs' of the girls I flirted with and those that gave me the eye. How full can ones life be? It is always good to hear that they had happily married lives like me and be glad rather than be sorry to hear they were unhappy.

  7. There is such tender wistfulness in your poem, Wendy ❤️ I guess we all have that feeling of "what if" at the back of our mind as we continue forward with life.. Beautifully penned.❤️

  8. I really enjoyed the poem and true story following.

    These are my favorite parts of your poem:

    "suddenly, there he was,
    in misty halation"

    "his head tipped in the same direction
    as his lips"

  9. This perceptive poem needs no back story--it's so universal. And yet the back story made me smile with its happy ending.

  10. Oh my. The story is breathtaking and the writing is stunning.

  11. This is a beautiful story and while they traveled different paths for a bit, destiny came full circle. Amazing really, I just adore a happy ending for love...

  12. A beautiful rendition of lost love revisited! Wonderfully drawn phrases.

  13. It is a story shared by so many of us. There is sadness and regret in the past, anxiety in the future, better to stay in the now, that is where life is.

  14. The poem and the back story brought a lot of memories. As I am typing this reply on the train, I can't help but think of the "what ifs" in my life. Maybe, I should never lose hope when it comes to love. Thanks Wendy.

  15. This is beautifully shared. The poem and the background note. Readers look for the poet, in the poem. So its good that you gave the background story.

    Thanks for dropping by my Sunday Standard this week

    Much love...

  16. A wonderful story! Lovely share.

  17. You are a good storyteller. I found both the poem and literal story fascinating. Yes, those might-have-beens!

  18. Sweet and I am glad he found long last ~ Love the backstory ~

  19. I agree with grapeling! You are a fine storyteller!