The Sky, Full of Birds

Background chatter, the chink of spoons on china, music piped in.
Outside, the sky a medley of soaring birds, on the streets
people walking to work, sun shining through the window on my face.I’ve been reading letters from a Dutch Jew, Etty Hillesum,
about a transport she witnessed being loaded for Auschwitz,
planks pulled out of the cars, hands waving through gaps,

the locomotive hiss and shriek, 3,000 Jews about to leave.
“The sky is full of birds,” she wrote, “sun shining on my face,”
heaven and earth in her rushing head-on. This bewilders me,

that sun on our faces and hers but weeks, countable hours
from the gas chamber, my own star a golden harbinger
of spring, soup bowls of sun to swim and nourish

what seeds, what crops my heart might still harvest.
Fate—karma, kismet, chance, luck, you bewilder me. Everything
bewilders me. Long ago, I thought one day life would open

her pockets, that I’d be able to answer a few questions like
What is this country I’m crossing? What station do I get off?
Where to from there? And still, I have no idea what the ground

under me is, no idea where I stand. And what can you do
with this word bewilder? The strange word bewilder. Be wilder.
Maybe wildness isn’t lack of restraint but an ability

to be in doubt, like Keats said, without reaching after reason.
Printed in blue on the pencil I am holding is the word Focus—
Focus and be wilder. For Etty, stakes were high, calling down God

into that circle of barbed wire. Sometimes I feel so pedestrian
tending the small pieces I shuffle to feed myself, keep warm,
clear away the daily messes, bewildered, wanting to be wilder

loving this only and one life, wanting to write a line of meaning
into it all, “lend the silence form, contours,” like she said,
like she did, even when tired, cold, hungry, frightened.

Copyright © 2010 Martin Steingesser


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