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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 15: Sept. 2022
Poem: 287 words
By Roseanne Freed

A Fearful Thing

after a poem by Rabbi Chaim Stern*
Soup, I thought, after the colonoscopy 
when they said your colon 
was blocked by a tumor. 

A pot of my lentil soup, 
our staple meal through the Canadian 
winters of your childhood. 

In the hospital, after the devastating 
diagnosis of stage four cancer, 
the doctors didn’t use the word cure—

you did. Before the first of your four 
surgeries, and the bi-weekly 
chemo appointments, you said: 

	I’m an ND. I know what to do, 
	what herbs to take along with the chemo. 
	I’ll be a miracle written up in books.

But tumors don’t care about miracles, 
or forty-year-old Naturopaths 
with two children under five. 

After fifteen months of treatments 
the oncologist looked at your PET scan: 
The chemo didn’t work. Sorry. 

That night you told me you’d always 
hated my soup. Though your words 
stung, I didn’t comment, didn’t need 

the last word. Because I love you, 
I understood your pain and frustration, 
and knew you wouldn’t give up and go home 

to die. You increased your daily supplements, 
gave yourself mistletoe injections, had acupuncture, 
and something called nebulized DCA treatments. 

Two months later you wrote on Facebook: 

	Send me your woo. In pain twenty-four/seven, 
	barely able to stand. If anyone tells me I’m strong 
	I might show my strength by punching them. 
Aching to connect with you, Dad and I chose 
comfort in the pottery bowls you made 
when you were ten. We hadn’t used them 

in years. I sent you a text: 
We’re eating soup in your bowls. 
Mine has pink hearts. 

You replied. Immediately. 

	I miss eating. 

That was your last message to me. 
You died the next day. 




* Publisher’s Note:

“It is a fearful thing to love / what death can touch” are the opening lines of an untitled poem by Reform rabbi, liturgist, and political activist Chaim Stern (1930-2001), acknowledged as one of the foremost liturgists of Reform Judaism.

The poem is published as Number 5 (on page 290) of “Meditations Before Kaddish” (a sequence of poems by various authors which runs from pages 288 thru 293) in Mishkan T’Filah: A Reform Siddur edited by Rabbi Elyse D. Frishman (Central Conference of American Rabbis; 5767 New York 2007); repaginated version. Full text may be viewed at:

Rabbi Stern’s poem has been widely misattributed, and with a title of “’Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch,” to Jewish poet Yehudah Halevi (c. 1075-1142). However, Rabbi Stern’s son Philip confirmed (23 April 2020) that the poem was written by his father; see Responses below the blog post:

(Links above were accessed on 5 September 2022.)

Roseanne Freed
Issue 15, September 2022

was born in South Africa and now lives in Los Angeles. She loves hiking and shares her fascination for the natural world by leading school children on hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains. Her poetry has been published in Blue Heron Review, Contrary Magazine, MacQueen’s Quinterly, ONE ART, Verse-Virtual, and Writing in a Woman’s Voice.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

The tree which moves some to tears of joy, is in the eyes of others only a green thing by Roseanne Freed in Issue 14 of MacQ (August 2022).

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