A look at the poem “Knock Knock” by Daniel Beaty

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I have not had an immediate stifling of sobbing in a while—at least not until I read “Knock Knock” by Daniel Beaty. All I can really say is that being a parent has changed me emotionally and to the point that I have to be mindful of the content of some books and films (child death and parental anguish don’t sit as well as when I was a bit more carefree).

Regardless, Beaty’s “Knock Knock” reminded me of those stabbing sorts of memories that come at you from the dark with steely knives. Like Giovanni Ribisi’s monologue from Saving Private Ryan (1998). You probably know the one: when the troubled medic recants a childhood memory about his mother coming home from work, and even though she just wants to talk to her son after a long day, he still just keeps his eyes closed tight; and, even sadder—he doesn’t know why he did that.

I guess life is like that.

We have a lot of strange memories that hang around in our heads for no other reason than to bother us when we least expect it, whether it’s our mothers coming home from work early to spend some time with us or remembering a game we used to play with our fathers. But I suppose we can always be better than ourselves…and better parents, too.

“Knock Knock” by Daniel Beaty  

As a boy I shared a game with my father

Played it every morning ’til I was 3

He would knock knock on my door

And I’d pretend to be asleep

’til he got right next to the bed

Then I would get up and jump into his arms

“Good morning, Papa.”

And my papa he would tell me that he loved me

We shared a game

Knock Knock


Until that day when the knock never came

And my momma takes me on a ride past corn fields

On this never-ending highway ’til we reach a place of high

Rusty gates

A confused little boy

I entered the building carried in my mama’s arms

Knock Knock


We reach a room of windows and brown faces

Behind one of the windows sits my father

I jump out of my mama’s arms

And run joyously towards my papa

Only to be confronted by this window

I knock knock trying to break through the glass

Trying to get to my father

I knock knock as my mama pulls me away

Before my papa even says a word


And for years he has never said a word

And so twenty-five years later, I write these words

For the little boy in me who still awaits his papa’s knock


Papa, come home cause I miss you

I miss you waking me up in the morning and telling me you love me

Papa, come home, cause there’s things I don’t know

And I thought maybe you could teach me:

How to shave;

How to dribble a ball;

How to talk to a lady;

How to walk like a man

Papa, come home because I decided a while back

I wanted to be just like you

But I’m forgetting who you are


And twenty-five years later a little boy cries

And so I write these words and try to heal

And try to father myself

And I dream up a father who says the words my father did not


Dear Son


I’m sorry I never came home

For every lesson I failed to teach, hear these words:

Shave in one direction in strong deliberate strokes to avoid irritation


Dribble the page with the brilliance of your ballpoint pen

Walk like a god and your goddess will come to you

No longer will I be there to knock on your door

So you must learn to knock for yourself

Knock knock down doors of racism and poverty that I could not

Knock knock down doors of opportunity

For the lost brilliance of the black men who crowd these cells

Knock knock with diligence for the sake of your children

Knock knock for me for as long as you are free

These prison gates cannot contain my spirit

The best of me still lives in you

Knock knock with the knowledge that you are my son, but you are not my choices

Yes, we are our fathers’ sons and daughters

But we are not their choices

For despite their absences we are still here

Still alive, still breathing

With the power to change this world

One little boy and girl at a time

Knock knock

Who’s there?

We are