An Old Man’s Applause

by Thomas Davis

I was seven years old.
Mom insisted I was too sick to play an old man in a fake gray beard,
but I had worked hard to memorize my school play’s lines.
I was so sick I could hardly get out of bed.
I got up anyway, dressed in old man clothes
Mom had stitched out of Dad’s cast-off pants and shirts
and walked out of the house through darkened streets to Delta Elementary.
Back stage I half fainted when I saw
the auditorium packed with kids, parents, and grandparents.
Other kids and our teacher just accepted that I was there.

Feverish, I feverishly repeated lines over and over in my head
and fought my stomach’s queasiness.
Then the play about pioneering, wagon trains, and wilderness began.
When my turn came I walked teetering, the way I was supposed to, on stage.
My Mom had no idea where I was.

An old man, I sat on a stool covered with a painted cardboard stump,
voice quavering as if I was sixty years old and not just sick.
When I finished the audience broke into thundering applause.
I bowed quickly, went off-stage, down ancient wooden stairs,
and went outside where the Milky Way flowed light toward the horizon.


Filed under poems, Poetry, Thomas Davis

10 responses to “An Old Man’s Applause

  1. There are times, when not feeling good we could all stand some applause.

  2. Nicely related One never knows what will go right, or wrong, but one knows when it is time not to be beaten. Sometimes there is even applause.

    Which made me think of this:

    Consider all phenomena to be dreams.
    Don’t be swayed by outer circumstances.
    Be grateful to everyone.
    Don’t brood over the faults of others.
    Explore the nature of unborn awareness.
    At all times simply rely on a joyful mind.
    Don’t expect a standing ovation”

    – Atiśa, 980 – 1054, Seven Points for Training the Mind and Heart

    Your tale also made me think of this:

    “Once upon a time an old farmer lost his best stallion. His neighbor came around that evening to express his condolences, but the old farmer just said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The next day the stallion returned bringing with him three wild mares. The neighbor rushed around to celebrate, but the old farmer simply said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The following day the farmer’s son fell from one of the wild mares while trying to break her in and broke his leg. The neighbor turned up to make sure all was well, but the old farmer just said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The next day the army came to conscript the farmer’s son to go and fight in the wars, but finding him an invalid left him with his father. The neighbor thought to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

    – “Taoist Wisdom” – Timothy Freke.

    • Ah, Ben Naga, Methuselah, may your wisdom ever spread into the veins and capillaries of humanity, spreading until collective sanity becomes a song that leads us in whirling dances of peace and joy. What a man you are!

      • Any wisdom in my comment is not of my making. Just passing it along, inspired by your own tale. Collective sanity, peace and joy. I’ll definitely have some of that is any to spare.

  3. You certainly were stoic for a seven year old, Thomas! Determination can sometimes overcome illness. I so admire that little boy you were, and know doubt that inner strength has served you well all your life. Wish I could’ve witnessed that performance!

    • I remember that my mother wasn’t so thrilled with my performance. I think I was a puzzle to both of my parents, and I’m not so sure I understand who I am either. Thanks so much, Betty. I hope you are well.

      • I think most of us poets are considered eccentric and puzzling to some degree, even as children. And in my opinion eccentricity is a good thing – it’s what makes us creative and imaginative. Here’s to being a puzzle! 😆

  4. Well done Tom – you performed that role like an old trooper! “The show must go on!”

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