The Stranger by Roseanne Freed

The Stranger

At my mother’s funeral the rabbi asked,
Who wants to see the body before we close the coffin?
It was good to see her. Wrapped

in a white cloth, she looked peaceful,
like the nun she’d always wanted to be.
I even kissed her cold forehead.

To help us accept our daughter had died
I knew her father and I had to see her,
had to see the body.

We didn’t recognize the person
in the coffin, arms folded across her chest,
at our private viewing. Pain

deeply etched on this stranger’s
face, her cheeks fevered, and her belly
—oh god her belly — inflated

from the total bowel blockage
looked nine-months pregnant.
I hoped my husband didn’t notice.

We stared silently, suffocated
by the truth
of how much she’d suffered.

I touched her hand,
and kissed her cold forehead.
It didn’t comfort.

I don’t know how people take pictures
or cut off locks of hair
from their beloveds’ bodies.

I lit the candles on the table,
held my spouse’s hand,
and we both wept.

*

Poet Roseanne Freed was born in South Africa. After the death of her daughter she turned to poetry to help with her grief. Her poetry has been published in ONE ART, Verse-Virtual, and MacQueen’s Quinterly among others. She’s a Best of the Net 2022 nominee. She and her husband live in Los Angeles.