The epigraph to Owen Lewis’s new work of poetry, Knock-knock (Dos Madres Press, 2024), makes reference to a quote from the Porter in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which many see as a very welcome break from all the madness and murder taking place in the play, meant perhaps to bring a moment of wryly comic relief:

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator … O, come in, equivocator

In the opening poem, we join the narrator in what at first is recognizable as the pleasure of the rhythmic tapping of an umbrella on a sidewalk and the musings of a busy man:

Prelude: How I Started to Use a Cane

The tap-step’s the only sure thing,
even as my daughter’s name

my very own first-born’s name
slips my mind and I almost slip
from the sudden blank shock of it,

Resembling a dream sequence, enjoying the entrancing rhythm of the umbrella tapping on the sidewalk, presaging the use of a cane, is gently pleasing in some ways until a shocking lapse reveals the new realities of losing one’s grip.

Lewis’s new collection, cohesive and seamlessly shaped, invites us to approach the mysterious portal we can all recognize as aging. The complete mystery of this frontier, with all its forgetfulness and humbling particulars, is nonetheless confounding, otherworldly, and it seems to arrive without reference to time or place:

When I’m Not Losing Things

things often fall with a clatter and break,
but sometimes without a crash or clamor
they pass into another realm, quiet winter-
light draining the day.

Diminishment and mortality bring about startling thoughts on arrival or in the anticipation of what comes next. We ourselves must play the part of the porter at the castle gate to greet the supernatural presence that paradoxically presents very natural and real outcomes. They are poems that move in a progression almost as a travelog along the varied paths of the degrading, strange, and oddly fascinating inevitability of death which knocks on the door bafflingly and in unfamiliar ways. But there is nothing self-indulgent or morbid in tone or mood in these poems. There is a very refreshing kind of Zen detachment as the voice in each poem describes the journey as a kind of adventuring spiritual footpath.

The frank meaning of the more poetic sounding word ‘equivocator’ is of course ‘liar’. In his little speech, the Porter makes reference to what everyone knows, and that is any of us can effectively ‘lie’ in this land of the living but upon passing to the next world all the truth will be known. The poems invite both the anodyne self-reference of how we see each other and the stark realities of what others say and do and what the inevitable decline of body and mind makes of all our conceits.

Lewis’s new work is a knock on the gate to his poems of wit and technically crafted moments of what we may think and feel on the brink of the third act of life. The progression of poems in Knock-knock  plays out just how astonishing and unreal getting old can be. We think we have always done what is right, and done well, only to discover that all the outcomes of mind, body, and spirit pose new rules we can only truly know when we get there.

The most effective, and very original, highlights in the poems in Knock-knock are how Lewis maintains a provocatively delightful tone through structures that are technically exacting in each short line. But each line reaches through to what matters. The narrator is telling us a very personal and intimate story. As in his earlier work, Field Light (Dos Madres, 2020), these poems are deeply compassionate, even as they reveal the painful realities that inspire the work.

I haven’t imagined I’ve lost my scarf

then a coat, my phone, the book I am reading.
The ivory cat isn’t seen, and I imagine him lost
several hours ago. (Later he appears on my

is not a planned

We find ourselves sharing in a tough spot with the narrator of these tender poems that invite new interpretations and revelations. Once the corporeal aspects of our lives fade, the next perfectly natural step is the spiritual realm. Just as we remember it from earlier in life:

A Lesson for This Life?

All morning I’m humming:
the world stands on three things:
Torah, prayer, & kind acts. 

What to Do with Pocket Change

is in another book. Not mine.
If there’s a coin for the ferryman,
drachmas or zlotys, not two-bits.

(Knock-knock . . .
I don’t want to miss a thing.)

Knock-knock is a beautiful and honorable portrait of accepting life’s later years, and ending, crafted very gracefully with kindness.



Colin Harrington lives in Windsor, Massachusetts USA and has been an educator (Amherst High School, Amherst MA), an Interpretive Guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum (Amherst, Mass), currently a Gallery Teacher at MASS MoCA (North Adams, Mass), and was the Events Manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox, Mass. He is the author of the chapbooks, Asking Me to See: Seven Poems of Japan (MidGard’n Press), Sweetheart Deals (New Feral Press) and Draughts of Ink (Buddha Baby Press). His poetry has been published in a number of anthologies, including: Under One Roof (Mad River Press); October Mountain edited by Paul Metcalf (Mountain Press); and Holding True (Mad River Press), and Potlatxch edited by David Raffeld (Williamstown, MA). He has published poetry in many journals including: The Doris (Catskill, NY), Modern Haiku and Sanctuary (Massachusetts Audubon). He has been an occasional editorial columnist for The Berkshire Eagle newspaper (Pittsfield, Mass) and a regular book reviewer for the Landscapes section of that same newspaper.

Owen Lewis is the author of three prior collections of poetry and two chapbooks. Awards include the 2023 Guernsey International Poetry Prize, the 2023 Rumi Prize for Poetry, The Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award (best man) and the International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. Field Light was a ‘Must Read’ selection of the Mass Book Awards. At Columbia University he is Professor of Psychiatry in Medical Humanities and Ethics.

Knock-knock can be purchased directly from Don Madres Press or via Amazon.