Saturday, May 12, 2012

2 Love Poems

Robert Sund
Sitting Alone at Night, Thinking of Old Promises


At night by the river
I see you fling your arms up into the sky,
     the moon visible between them.
There are no roots growing from your feet,
you float away.

The limb of a flowering tree comes down over a
     high brick wall,
the tip of a branch rests
     like the prow of a ship on water,
and sails on so slowly that in the morning when birds wake up
in the garden,
and sing,
an old sea captain standing on deck
far out at sea
     turns his head
     as though he heard them singing.

White drops of water
glisten on the mast and on the bright deck,
he lifts his dead wife up
once more
into the meadows of his heart,
as one day the flattened grass
slowly lifted the shape of her body
into the air.

He is like a young man again,
     "Summer has come by like a ship of blossoms,
     and if you call my name, I will
     meet you–as I promised–
     in the tall windows of the rose,
     and hold you there, forever."

* * *

On This Side of the Mountains

On this side of the mountains, I found you,
and soon go back.
Tonight, shadows ripple over the coals,
and in me, your gift,
immense silence.
I hear a song I have placed my lips upon
for you alone.
I bring this old harp,
I unclothe it for you.

Over the mountains
ripening fields of wheat stand and wait,
and I have seen in you, suddenly,
your moon, your darkness,
and the sacrament they make together.
Because of your beautiful body,
and because you step
reluctantly into your nakedness,
I go like a white shadow
drifting through your darkness.

You are not alone,
and I have two hands.
I have made a home for you in my hands.
In one, a song.
In the other, someone far away
lies down and sees in mountain passes
a blue flower
lifting its green arms out of the snow.

"I will leave you to go there, but
not before I plant in your heart
the jewel of this night between us."

–both poems from Ish River,

My Father

by Robert Sund


In America, history goes by quickly.

Like a windstorm.

is a coat flattened against my father,
     like newspaper
     caught in blackberry.


I think of his grave
     in the small cemetery outside Elma,
name and dates
carved in the headstone.
I remember the day he was buried by greedy men.
And the day before:
my mother, my brother and his wife, and I,
upstairs in Whiteside’s Funeral Parlor,
followed by the undertaker,
we walked across a lavender carpet
while the pastel lights
sent cheap violins weeping through the air,
trying to break us
between the rows of luxurious coffins.

My mother said, and almost laughed,
"shopping for a coffin,"
before she fell apart, crying in my arms,
trembling into her widowhood.


I said: "Dad hated this . . . Let’s not let them
     beat him at the last."

That day we chose the cheapest coffin
     this country can make.
I watched the undertaker
wilt into his lavender economy and try to smile.
And my father
grew joyful inside me.

Back out on the street,
my brother shoved the car into second gear,
roaring, "This country
     has gone to hell!"

In the back seat, our mother sat quaking
and holding behind a handkerchief her destroyed mouth.
Over the craggy ridges of the handkerchief
her eyes burned shut
and cracked like ashes in the rain.
–another poem from Ish River (1983), collected in Sund’s POEMS FROM ISH RIVER COUNTRY

East of the Mountains, Driving to White Swan

                                                                                                   June 29, 1969


The Yakima river valley
half an hour before the sun goes,
driving past farms
Sunnyside to Granger, and on, beyond Toppenish,
fieldrows of young beans, dark brown earth
sunlight on the sea of leaves over the darkening cornfields,
the hops growing up on high crossed sticks
     like ruins that disappeared
     leaving green arms
     in the air.
I have a feeling anything will grow here; this earth
is rich
for everybody.
Small ditches filled with seeping water,
the land is peaceful.

On one farm, in fields of mint, between green rows,
white geese
are bent over like Chicanos
weeding the mint.
     Now and then one stands up,
     looks off into space,
looking at something over the tops of cars,
over houses,
far off,
     blue clouds over the Cascades.

This is the longest valley in the world.


At White Swan, out
     beyond all the farms,
maybe a light every once in a while,
in the sage,
in dark ravines filled with willow brush,
under the newly risen
full moon,
     the night is like deep water.


I’m getting here late.
This is
     the first council fire in forty years–
     All the tribes of the Yakimas are gathering tonight,
anyone welcome.

Following cars,
red tail lights in the dust,
a bright chilly night,
three miles out cars are gathered in a field,
white canvas teepees in a huge circle,
booths selling popcorn and soft drinks,
the bone game, and
a dirt-floor dance hall with
bleachers three rows deep,
everybody hunched up in the cold,

four Indian girls dancing off to one side, wearing bright
headbands and soft leather boots,
old men sitting around a dream,
     eight of them,
calling for the next dance. The chief,
cowboy hat and braided hair, in the circle of
     seated drummers,
the face of a real Indian,
lifts the tilted bright silver microphone
     off his knees:
"It’s a cold night, yes," he says.
"Dance and you won’t feel it."

He starts to lift his drumstick, but
     picks up the microphone again:
"This is everybody’s war dance!"
And the old drummers, dry and distant,
laugh a little and shift in their chairs.


Later, six men
from another tribe
with a drum come to play and chant.

These old men,
     are they
     the last?

Out there in the arena some wear feathers
     and dance,
     bending low,
     the sun rising on their backs
     circled by
     bright colored trembling feathers.

Here on the benches we all wear the same clothes
and have no bells on our feet.

–Robert Sund (1929-2001),

from Poems from Ish River Country: Collected Poems & Translations, 2004