The Watchman’s Chair: A Song for Shmirah

I was serving as a Shomer when the idea for this song came to me. The ritual of Shmirah refers to the practice of watching over the body of a deceased person between the time of death and burial. I wrote the chorus pretty quickly, but the verses took literally months. When I was finished, I felt like I’d poured out a whole bunch of stuff onto the coffee table or something. It took a lot out of me writing this song. Serving as a Shomer is one of the most profound and humblings things I’ve ever done, and I am grateful for the chance to be of use to my community in this very specific way.

The Watchman’s Chair


The room is still, so still that everything out there
Becomes nothing in here
Before me is a pine box, unpainted, unadorned
But for a little wooden star they glued on top

The star floats above the man inside the box
Sealed off from everything
Become nothing, lying oh so still
Too still for sleep
And for this hour I will keep caring watch
Over the body of the man who is no more


Starlight doesn’t shine in here
I sit beside the casket
And it’s strange to feel no fear
I know that it will be my turn one day
And though I’ll no longer know enough to care, I hope that someone else will take my place
And take their turn in the watchman’s chair


Some may place a candle at their loved one’s head and feet
To light up the way to heaven
The custom here is different, we take turns taking care
Of our dearly beloved one

Each one of us is the candle
Lighting the heart-shaped hole poked in a world
That’s fast asleep
And for this hour I will keep caring watch
Over the body of the one who is no more

— CH —


My days stretch out all blurry, behind me and before me
A million moments rush by in a whirl
When I guard this simple box I’m reminded once again
We’re each a tiny speck in the history of the world

A hundred years from now, who’ll know I was here?
Will it matter that I mattered once
To someone else who’s just as gone
Too still for sleep
And for this hour who will keep caring watch
Over the body of the one I was…

— CH —

Copyright 4-22-2019 Beth Hamon. All rights reserved.

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