Uncle Ben: What the Number Said

I’m five years old.
We’ve just been buzzed into Aunt Miriam’s house.
Uncle Ben’s office is to the right, off the hall.
Before walking upstairs to the second floor,
I look to the right and see dark.
Mother holds my hand while I peak in:
Equipment. The kind the Nazis used?
No, for taking x-rays.

Overheard: Once, he gave me medicine
to abort my baby but it didn’t work
and the baby was born with an extra thumb.

I’m thirteen years old now.
Uncle Ben’s been dead eight years.
Daddy says the only good German is a dead German.
That was 1946 and Uncle Ben can’t practice medicine
at Johns Hopkins hospital. No Jews allowed.
Is that why he doesn’t smile?

I don’t know how to like him.
He doesn’t look at me.
He has a Doberman Pinscher named Prince.
When women come to the house,
Prince looks under their dresses.
Men laugh. Women are embarrassed.

In the basement of Aunt Miriam’s house,
a ping pong table and knotty pine walls.
Once when I was nine
a cousin played ping pong with me.
He was sixteen. Now I’m sixteen
and I read about a man the Nazis put in a freezer.
to see how much cold a human being can withstand.
When the man’s testicles turned blue, he collapsed
and guards dragged him out. A doctor records
how much time it took for the man to die,
but I don’t remember what the number said.