Thursday, August 16, 2012
Robert Sund's Soliloquy
Guiding a stray bee out of the house—enough work for one day!
The sun was still high in the sky, but the air felt like evening. Robert Sund came inside the Boom Shack and went over to his stand-up writing desk. He picked up a small book of his own poems and looked them over.
It is time for the ink to spill this summer evening, he thought, and make more poems.
If I make a dot of ink as big as a dime, I can almost see my reflection in the glossy surface. I could see the future or past lives if I was interested, or the Jersey cows back on the farm where I grew up. I can see many things. And then the black ink dries and dulls as it settles into the paper, going to a charcoal matte finish, which does not reflect, and leaves no image, but for me, I can even peer deeper into ---- into what? I see a merry old man sitting by a small river under a blossoming almond tree. If I look closer – ah, the old man is drinking plum wine, he shouts in a drunken glee, “I am a fish. I am a golden diamond fish. I am the husband and the wife and the child. I drink this plum wine and I become a family of wild creatures.” The old man stood up, stripped down and jumped into the flowing river, waist-high, roaring with pleasure, scattering the ducks.
That’s how I find my poems, from this ink bottle. I see the old man sitting by the river. He is as real as my own thumb, but does it make a poem? Are the words right? And is it true? More than anything a poem has to be true.
It wasn’t like this when I was a school boy in Chehalis writing on Big Indian Chief tablets, that rough paper with light blue lines widely spaced for young hands to try their pens. I often smeared my long-sleeves into the ink when I was in the third grade.
My mother would scold me when I came home. Her scolding was so light it was almost a pleasure, if I could only make myself not smile at her. If I smiled at her she would have to start all over again, “Robert, you made a mess with the ink. You must be more careful. I have to scrub your shirt now so it won’t stain.”
Then I would bow my head and wait a little, and then I could smile warmly at her, looking up. She was only a little taller than me.
I came to the farm in Chehalis as a bundle in a blanket, to this Swedish home with cedar rail fences and a pasture leading down to the river, full of old stumps. It was 1929, Herbert Hoover was President, and I was a baby in a blanket, and much loved, but even then somehow I knew I was a replacement for my brother Don who had died two years earlier from diphtheria. Don was buried in the church yard not too far from our farm and my mother and father never ceased to mourn. I was supposed to make them happy, and I almost did. I wished I could sing for them or do something to make them happy, but I was only a baby and my mother gave me a warm bath every day, until I grew up and ran in the fields and became a school boy.
My father, he knew how many beautiful August evenings surround an ear of corn.
And my mother, she knew that without love of Earth there is no love of heaven.
That’s how I wrote about my mother and father, with tears in my eyes. They loved me as much as they could, as much as I needed, but I felt different just the same, and the sorrow never left our home, like a dampness in the corners even on the driest, hottest days of August -- the tears and the dampness were only put away for a while. I smiled and chattered and played with small stones in the yard, making stone diagrams of houses and forts. I took fern leaves from the bushes and made fern railroads coming up to the houses in this tiny Swedish village where I daydreamed of lingonberry syrup on pancakes. In my play village the people were truly happy. I could even hear the sound of light laughter.
I worked hard enough in later years on the farm, doing chores, but it was never going to be my farm. My father knew that, he never said it would come down to me. He knew that I was not his true heir and he would not force me to be what I could never be.
It was a good home but it was sad. I loved them as much as I could, but I was only a replacement.
Is this too simple to say? I watched the Chehalis River flowing and wanted to go downstream to Grays Harbor, leaving this farm. I knew I would never come back.
I found poetry at the University – I began to keep a small book and put words together. I left school and went over to the Eastern Cascades, to the Palouse, to work on dry-land farms under skies that never ended. I bucked hay in the heat and dust. I loaded wheat in the silo and almost died in an explosion. The farmers understood me – who I was and why I was there.
I came there to learn from the farmers because I thought I was special, and they taught me in the wheat field that I was only dust in the wind. They were true Buddhists. No reason, no meaning, no hope, and no chance of heaven. What a relief!
I returned to Seattle and lived in Cloud House. I married a woman because she was kind to me.
I left my wife in Seattle and moved to Shi-Shi Beach. That was my time on the wild ocean shore. It was so much bigger than the river. I sat there long enough -- it took years – but I sat and sat in a shelter under the wind until all of my poetry dissolved into nothing. Then one day a raccoon told me I was getting lazy. He stole my last handful of Cracker Jacks. I chased him out of camp before I realized how much he was disturbing me. Oh, Raccoon Teacher – what were you telling me?
Telling me to leave Shi-Shi Beach and go back to town. It was time to listen to those busy town voices. So I came to LaConner and lived in a room upstairs at the Planter Hotel. I had no money. I made calligraphies on expensive paper. I sold one or two. I played pool at the tavern, I kept making poems and I refused to work.
No money for rent! Hunger! The Muse pays so poorly, but she is so lovely. She lulled me to sleep in the early hours before dawn.
But I suffered. I was lonely. I was bitter and proud. I hated the world of success spinning all around me like jets flying overhead. I got drunk. I laughed but it was forced.
I know I am worse than anyone. I am guilty. My poetry is all lies, but I never tell this to anyone.
Now I have this small cabin in town, courtesy of Nelson Hardware. My poems amuse the Nelson family. They let me off easy for the rent, which I haven’t got anyway. Why do they trust me? I am a fraud. I owe money all over town. I clutch these papers and say this is my work and it has great value. The days are hard, but late at night, when the moon is quiet and bright, I see it all coming true and beautiful.
That’s when Jimmy and Hitch and Aurora Jellybean showed up slinging cold beer on their shoulders. “Hey Robert. Hi-ho. Are you thirsty?”
Note: Words in italics are from Shack Medicine, one of the Robert Sund’s chap books of poetry.
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