Uncle Nachman’s Numbers
By Jeff Saperstein

When he rolled up his sleeves
to fry the potatoes in the sizzling oil,
I glimpsed them on his forearm--
6 digits etched in a sick blue ink.
I saw them and did not ask
what they added up to.
A 12-year old boy knows nothing
of the past.  The latkes sizzled in the pan
and took form.

Back then, everyone cooked with gas
so he’d  crisp them just right.
I tried to focus on the beads of oil
popping in the pan and the pale mix
turning gold, but my eyes kept drifting
to the numbers,
engraved on his arm for life.

A few knickknacks were scattered about
but he kept no photo of his wife and child
anywhere that I could see.
He’d fry dozen of pancakes,
latkes all day long.
The apartment filled with acrid smoke,
and the numbers gave off a palpable heat.