Burial By Strangers

Poem by George Lober. Photo by Ira Joel Haber.

Here is what I can tell you: of the six men
inside that room, only two of us knew
each other and none of us knew the dead.  
That much is true.  I could add it was
a midweek afternoon, that despite the heat,
each of us arrived dressed for the occasion—
sport coat, slacks, dress shirt and tie—
and that after handshakes and names,
we settled into a standing silence until
the undertaker motioned us into the chapel,
lined us along the coffin three to a side,
and at his signal, we lifted and carried it
to the hearse.  That would be true as well.  
After that, I’d like to tell you we rode
to the cemetery together in silence
out of respect, but odds are that would not
be true—someone probably bitched
about the weather, someone else the traffic;  
the two who knew each other likely
shared an aside. What I can tell you
is that when we arrived at the grave,
the sky was clear, the wind warm,
that we carried the coffin to the stand
and waited as a cemetery official
commended the departed to the Lord,
and that absolutely no one else was there,
no one.  That part is completely true.  
What I don’t know is who he was,
how he died, why the others were there,
or who paid for his burial, but none
of that really matters. At the funeral home,
we shook hands and parted; I never saw
them again.  The two who knew each other
joked about a bar; two others begged off,
needing to return to work. I don’t remember
what I did, only that suddenly I understood
two things: no one, I believed, wanted to die
like that, yet someone does, someone did.
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