I’m wondering about you, chevra kadisha,
the “holy society,” who will prepare my body,
once I’m no longer in it, for the earth.
Will you know me already, or see me for the first time
as you wash and shroud me, as my father was washed
and dressed in simple white tachrichim, for those
about to stand before God. Perhaps by then I’ll know
if I believe in God. I like the democratic
nature of the shroud, an equalizing garment. You
may see a body that surprises you. You may not have seen
a man’s body like this one before you, which I hope is very old,
wrinkled, and (since I’m wishing) fit, muscled
as much as an old man can be. You’ll see scars.
Ragged dog bit forearm, elbow my father picked gravel
from over the sink, then flushed with foaming iodine,
and the long double horizons on my chest, which trunked my body
like a tree. If I am unexpected, let me not seem
grotesque to you, as I have to many people, perhaps
even my own parents, and others whose highest
kindness was to say nothing. Please let me return to dust
in peace, as the others did, and recite those beautiful psalms,
remembering, as you go about your holy ritual,
how frightening it is to be naked before another,
at the mercy of a stranger’s eyes, without even any breath.
Copyright © 2019 by Miller Oberman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“This was the first thing I'd written in quite some time, so I was really relieved to know I could still write a poem. It was inspired by an essay on cemeteries written by a student of mine.”
Miller Oberman is the author of The Unstill Ones (Princeton University Press, 2017). He teaches writing at Eugene Lang College and lives in Queens, New York.
Date Published: 2019-12-10
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/taharah