Two Poems from Knock-knock 

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Owen Lewis

A Lesson for This Life?

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

Even in the Minsk shtetl
they sang it. And even in Florida,
a warm version of over-there. 

How can the world stand
on three things? How about
two? Two feet, two legs.

Condense the phrases: Torah acts
& kind prayer, or, kind Torah
& prayer acts. How to sing it?

Square peg in a round hole. 
Lyrics have to fit the music
or no one will remember.

Maybe it’s a one-legged pillar
holding it all up. Standing on one leg
like the Rabbi and the flamingo.

A midrash, but I can’t remember
the color-name of flamingo.
They don’t have flamingos in Minsk.

My great-grandfather is a Rabbi,
studies all day and I never met him
until last night. I thought to call him

Grandpa—but he doesn’t answer.
He has three legs, counting the cane,
so maybe the song got it right.

I know who he is. In my mind
I’ve heard his voice, soft and pure
purling Yiddish and Hebrew.

From his face, a cascade of white beard,
beautiful curls of peyis he twirls and
twirls. Zayde’s arrived. That’s his name.

        Blessed who comes. Baruch ha-bah.


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.

If and when I’m just a body—
Zayde told my father who told me,
the soul returns to Blessed- 

Be-His-Name with an indelible
name-tag that never washes out.
When I’m just a body, one coin

for the committee who washes me.
The other I’ve carried from the tray
of the pidyon haben. The Kohen

needed five silver pieces. Not sure
we had it. Was I redeemed? I am
still here, still counting—Doctor!

Doctor, your patient is calling.
If he’s dead he’ll want his eyes
closed. Or maybe, he’ll want one

left open, the secret, roving one,
the sacrilegious one. Only Moses
could look into G-d’s face. (Holy

Moly!) Afterwards he glowed
in divine sunburn. If and when . . .
a coin on just one eye.

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


Owen Lewis, author of three collections of poetry, Field Light (Distinguished Favorite, 2020 NYCBigBookAward; 2021 “Must Read”, Mass Book Awards), Marriage Map (short list Rubery Book Awards) and Sometimes Full of Daylight, all from Dos Madres Press, and two chapbooks. best man was the recipient of the 2016 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize of the New England Poetry Club. Prizes include: 2023 Guernsey International Poetry Competition, 2023 Arts & Letters/ Rumi Prize, 2016 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. His poetry has appeared in Nimrod, Poetry Wales, The Mississippi Review, Southward, The Four Way Review, Arts & Letters, and Cider Press Review. His literary essays have appeared in Intima, Ink Sweat & Tears, Presence, Wordpeace, and the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. At Columbia University, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, he is Professor of Psychiatry in the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics. Dos Madres Press will publish Knock-Knock on March 1, 2024.