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Numb to the World

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I spent forty years
on the prowl, searching for a mom
in friends like you who behaved
like an icicle, unwelcoming.

You never comforted me
when Dad died, no mom to hug
and cry with, only to cover mirrors
like good Jews do. You continued to
knit and crochet on the sofa—
without expression.

I didn’t attend the funeral
just sent to a friend’s house
because at age ten
you imagined me too young.

Mom, we never spent time together.
Rather you shopped, decorated our
house with silk linen, dotted Swiss
curtains and dined out, often,
leaving me with maids, always.

Any cooking I learned—
such as homemade apple pie
drizzled with melted butter
sprinkled with coppery colored sugar,
shaping matzo balls to float in salty liquid
light as feathers—came from Ann,
our live-in maid.

In the kitchen, close to her
I watched white potato lumps
swim in steamy milk
mashed with butter
spooned on decorative dinner plates.

Once a week I swung
open our beveled glass door
returning from school,
Cora, another maid, with warm cocoa
skin tore herself away from
polishing silver,
wrapped her sweaty arms around me
saying, “Mayleen, Mayleen!”
She smacked my cheeks with wet
kisses.

Her sweat-stained arm pits
released a foul scent
her zaftig bosom engulfed me.

Years past, feeling unwanted I shut down
to sleep, throw up in a
funnel-shaped waste basket
as you nagged me
to move, do something.

When I didn’t respond to anything,
became lethargic, you wondered why!
“Get her going!” you growled
at doctors. “Do something—
what am I paying you for?”

Dragged kicking and screaming
to a mental institution, nurses
in fitted-white outfits locked on black straps
buzzed my head, repeatedly.

For years I walked around like a zombie,
filled hollowness with food, watched television,
inspected closets stacked with towels, toilet paper,
visited Ann, who ironed in the basement.
I roamed our house dazed,
numb to myself, numb to the world.

Further along, in future decades,
flowers cracked my heart open.
I rubbed soil between my fingers.

Silk burgundy petals, yellow
whorls of Jerusalem sage
unfurled as rose-scented blossoms
drenched by sunlight
resonated in me.

I caressed
floral bouquets,
plopped stout stems
one by one, in a
smoky-gray vase
filled with water.

Now, at sixty-two
four years after your death,
I am finally responsible
for myself.

I thank you for
giving me life.