The Old Man and Woman Talk About Wisdom

by Thomas Davis

“There is no such thing,” he says. “We are emotional beings.
Our thoughts get wrapped into the brain’s primitive centers
and get confused with ego, flight and fight responses, love, hope,
the stuff that makes us human beings.”

“Hmmph!” the old woman replies.
“You’re getting old, old man.
You don’t even notice pretty young girls anymore.”

“Answer me then,” he says calmly.  “Tell me about wisdom.”

“It’s like poetry,” she answers, smiling.
“You find in-between moments:
The flash of light off a burrow owl’s spotted wings
as sunrise first filters sunlight over the horizon.”

He was silent for a long time,
thinking about her answer.

“I thought wisdom was about human understanding,”
he says at last.   “About coming to a point in life
when all the mysteries, death, war, love, the universe,
become acceptable past emotion and thought.”

“Acceptance comes from the flash of light,
the owl, the movement of wings,” she says.
“It comes from an old man and an old woman
on a winter Sunday afternoon sitting
in front of the living room’s windows while sun
shines on the parquet floor and warms the house.”

He smiles.  “I would have thought it was
about puzzling out the light, owl, wings, sunlight, and warmth
and subscribing human understanding to them.”

She ponders, then smiles too.

“Perhaps a human moment,” she says.
“But the earth is already wise:
Ocean waves crash on black rocks, birds fly, dogs bark, trees grow,
and dinosaurs leave their bones in rocks.
That’s what we have.  That’s what we are.”

“Who we are?” he asks sharply.

“No, what we are,” she says.
“Listen to your heart’s rhythm, how it beats in time to time,
how time passes into light glancing off a burrow owl’s wings,
in my eyes that look into your eyes
and the smiles lingering into old age.”

He shakes his head and laughs.
“Into human thought trying to make sense
of where light comes from.”

“While light is,” she says.

“While light is.”


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11 responses to “The Old Man and Woman Talk About Wisdom

  1. Stunning….weep-worthily beautiful, Thomas. I can’t say enough, so I won’t say any more.

  2. Oh I love rhis Tom. And I don’t like to ‘steal ‘ comments, but I have to say what Cynthia said.

  3. How very interesting, Thomas, and how arresting! I love the way it unfolds carefully and slowly.

  4. annajanemark

    I was hanging out at a local bookstore in Guelph the other day and came upon the poetry of a Canadian man, Leon Rooke, a man I once interviewed for an English paper! But, I found some of the poems delightful because they were conversations. I was so inspired that I came home and wrote a few myself, though didn’t post them. It is a very intimate way to write/read, to imagine all that goes on between two people engaged in quite a philosophical conversation. I, too, enjoyed reading this poem. The light is.

  5. sayword

    love it,Tom……Sayword

  6. A beautifully restful look at the questioning soul, or rather the questioning mind. This poem, for me, has threads of Kahlil Gibran running through it, as if he were wishing to have such a conversation if he still walked our plane. I love the repeating use of nature within it, always shifting it very slightly into the frame of a new nuance, until it cumulates into just ‘is’. Really beautiful, Thomas.


    Like all the best poems
    This makes me want to read it again
    To probe more deeply into meaning
    To savour once more the crafwork in its making
    To discover and appreciate more fully the skill

    And of a sudden find in a flash of light
    New breadths, new depths,
    Whole new prospects and new views
    From these very same words
    And read again

    And again

  8. I must agree with all the above comments – a stunningly beautiful poem, Thomas. Also makes me ponder the difference between the right brain and the left brain – one more intuitive (the old woman) and the other that craves reason, logic, facts. (And I must relate to the old woman in this poem… but also love the tenderness in the words of you, the poet.) Like Ben, I’d like to come back and read this from time to time – it is nourishing.

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