Robert Sund’s Poems from Ish River Country

It seems appropriate that I started reading Robert Sund’s Poems from Ish River Country while on my trip to Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon since the first section “Bunch Grass” is set in the wheat fields of Eastern Washington, though the poems often seem like they could have been written in China centuries ago.

You don’t have to read his biography
to learn Sund was fond of Buddhism and Chinese poetry. All you need to do is read:


A bee thumps against the dusty window,
falls to the sill,
climbs back up, buzzing;
falls again;
and does this over and over.
If only he would climb higher
The top half of the window is

Even though I suspect this poem’s style stems more from Roethke’s and William’s influence than from Chinese poetry considering it was published right after Roethke’s death, the style is so similar to hermetic Chinese poetry it seems inevitable that Sund would have found his way there. Even the conclusion seems more like an observation than a message.

This one


Near me,
there’s a flutter of birds passing through heaven.
I’m singing in a silent place,
remembering my happiest friends.
I’m a stalk of grass
where the wind is blowing.
You have to
bend close to hear
anything at all.

reminds me a lot of the best of Emily Dickinson’s poems, perhaps most because of the last three lines. These poems don’t shout at you; they whisper to you. Just like nature whispers to you. You have to listen carefully, or, like most people, you won’t hear the message at all.