As I roved out on a bright May morning
To view the meadows and flowers gay
Whom should I spy but my own true lover
As she sat under yon willow tree.
In 1978, I heard Planxty in concert in Dublin (I think it was Dublin, though it might have been Galway) and this song broke my heart.
I was getting ready to leave Ireland but I was going to return, oh yes, to make a life with a man I loved. I didn’t know the song was a foreshadow. That I would meet someone else in Canada, someone I immediately knew I wanted to spend my life with. He felt the same. We knew that, yes, but we both had ties and had to figure out how to snip them in the most graceful way possible. And it wasn’t tidy. I remember we had an argument over something now forgotten and Planxty was playing on my old turntable and this was the song that sent me out into the night, onto Fort Street, to cry under the trees in front of my apartment. He followed and somehow we figured out a way to move ahead. Part of this meant that we agreed I should return to Ireland to settle, as best I could, my attachments there.
This morning I went out into the morning and everything is so new and green that I cried again. There was birdsong—Swainson’s thrushes and robins, warblers—and the lilacs coming into full bloom. The tree I always think of as the Bride’s Tree, a crab apple brought to us by John’s mother when we first moved here in the early 1980s, is also about to burst into blossom and it’s already loud with bees. It’s the tree the bears love in fall for the small sour crabs and I’m happy for them to eat them, although I don’t know why they have to break branches in their hurry to gobble the fruit.
It comes, the pain of old love, just when you don’t expect it. When you are walking around your garden, planning to return in an hour or so with a colander to pick dandelion leaves, lambs quarters, chickweed, and kale for a green pie for dinner, when you are full of joy for the richness of your life. (A husband who brings you your first cup of coffee in bed so you can drink it by the open window and listen to birds. Who is building new steps for the deck because the old ones might no longer be safe for you and your grandchildren. Who responded to your comment that the orchard bee houses are now fully tenanted by making another, bigger one. Who moved his chair last night because the bees were trying to find another little hole in the wall behind him.)
A phrase will come to you and you are reminded that you were cruel. Reckless. But on a May morning, cutting a jug of those crab apple blossoms, the lilac, a few strands of Saskatoon berry, you can remember and feel a little of that old pain as you recognize the shadows under the spreading trees. What holds the trees close is also joy.
And I wish the Queen would call home her army
From the West Indies, America and Spain
And every man to his wedded woman
In hopes that you and I will meet again.