Notes From The Board   :   Notes From the Robert Sund Poet's House

November Notes from the Poet's House

This letter was found on a kitchen shelf, in a scroll and tied with ribbon:

August 10, 2001

Dear Robert,

I'’ve been thinking about you this past week: I came across a little hand-written, illustrated book of poems you gave me on my birthday once—three poems of Rabbe Enckell which you had translated from the Swedish. To try to preserve this gem of a gift I put it in a frame with one poem showing. This was the poem:

These little matchstick poems of mine make you smile.
Their harmlessness is the talk of the town –
But it’s better to have a box of them in your pocket
than to sleep with ten fire engines in the living room.
I’m satisfied if when you strike them
suddenly they light up my face and go out!

In fact, from time to time, I’'ve considered a whole number of small treasures you'’ve passed on to me and have wanted to let you know how much they continue to please me. I never quite knew where you were, but figured our paths would inevitably cross one day. Just today I learned you were not well and decided to come find you. I hope I succeed on this mission. In any event, thanks for all the matchsticks. They can be struck again and again and again! They light up my home and my heart.

Ana-mari Sarkanen

Robert’s River Journals, 1974

From Robert’s journal, written in those fragile-looking, but quite sturdy little Chinese notebooks that he liked to use. He got them at the Wah Sun Book Shop on Pender Street in Vancouver.

Robert began to live on the River in 1973 at a place called Shit Creek, a tidal inlet that curled around Bald Island. There was an old net shed up on pilings and Robert fixed that up for a dwelling place. Dan’l Stokely was next door and they were great friends and had good times, but there was poverty too. From the journal:

Nov 4th, dark & cold. Southeast blowing strong – all the heat goes out the ceiling.
owe Gary $20.00 + $20.00
owe Dan $10.00
owe Dana $10.00
owe Dana 5.00 + $2.00
for town:
dry fruit
soy sauce
paper towels
C batteries
peanut butter
newspaper for fires

December 15
Dan’s Letter to Get Food Stamps, “Proving” He is Penniless & Describing How He Got Along Before This:
“You were right, it is hard for a two-person household to live on 0 dollars for that length of time. In fact my wife Leni has left for the city, making this a one-person household instead of two.


We got by with going to the free store for clothes and to Neighbors in Need for extra groceries. We have large stocks, enough to last months, of salt, wheat, corn, beans, lentils, barley, buckwheat, oil and so on. Our income has been 0. My neighbor is kind enough to give me matches and candles and for the past week food because of your decision to not send the stamps.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: I have read this statement made by Dan Stokely on the other side of this page and I can tell you it is true. All of it.

[River Rats had trouble establishing their existence when they wanted Food Stamps – of course, they did not wish to leave a paper trail otherwise, but to let the River speak and forego the receipt.]

January 18,1975
Paul Hansen left this poem in my book sometime in the Summer or Fall of 1974. I write it in ink on January 18, 1975.

I visit Robert 2 days
in a row and he is not home.
Ducks & swallows
tell of changing
I sit on your deck.
An idle rowboat
pokes about
the mouth of the creek.v The afternoon sun
slowly passes.
February, 1975

Three years now I’'ve lived here in the tidal marsh, watched the river from my shack, learned to sit without hearing the voice of men, without feeling there is something else I should be doing.

Dan’l Stokeley still lives in LaConner. He has a house on Skagit Bay. He is the captain if a fish tender every summer in Bristol Bay.

Paul Hansen spends almost all his time in China now. He can’t stand LaConner anymore. That was in the journal, and there is a lot more to go through, including writing that was a little different than what Robert liked to make public – and some of that might see the light of day soon enough, as we children rummage through his chest of treasures.

March 31, 1983

Robert was staying with friends in San Francisco. But he was alarmed about reports from LaConner about a big Condo Project on the waterfront, so he wrote an open letter.

Now I hear the latest outrage: $12,000,000 Condominium planned for LaConner, on the site of the Puget Freight Warehouse, and adjoining cannery to be converted into a restaurant; sixty units to be built ranging in price from $75,000 to $175,000.

IF THIS IS WHAT THE CITIZENS WANT, then they can let the town council go along with the honey-tongued developers who are no doubt whispering in the Council’s ears about BROADENING THE TAX BASE, and getting MAXIMUM BENEFITS from AVAILABLE RESOURCES. However, if the citizens object to the project, then they have to speak up now and waste no time about it.

The Council’'s efforts should be toward simplifying the lives of the people they represent, and lessening the need for taxes and additional revenue. It’s all backwards if you DEVELOP to get taxes, because the need for town services will forever run further and further ahead of the town’s ability to provide them. THE DOG IS CHASING ITS TAIL, AND THE DOG IS GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER. It should be plain for all to see. A small town has to stay reasonably small, otherwise it is out of character, like a man putting on airs and pretending to be something that he is not.

Robert was politically active in 1983. That Fall he ran for Mayor against the incumbent, Mary Lam. He got a good number of votes, and came close to winning.

The town has grown enormously since 1983 and the cost of living is much higher, and, as Robert warned, BROADENING THE TAX BASE is still being used as a argument for growth.

But they never built the Condos on the waterfront. The developers have been trying for twenty years, with one scheme after another, but too many citizens resist it. And I have often thought that the waterfront property, instead of being for Condos, would be a good place for the Poet’s House. That would make Robert happy.

November 1, 2003 at the Poet’s House

I have been maintaining Robert’s garden these past two years. The first thing to say is that a garden grows, but it can’t be preserved. When I first began to work on it, I snipped a branch on the mugu pine, and I knew right away that Robert would never have snipped that branch. He would have studied the situation for several months, and talked it over with people, and considered alternatives, and possible have made sketches, and then maybe – just maybe – he would have snipped a tiny bit of it.

So the garden is not the same and it never can be and the truth is to carry it on. Now this summer I wanted to put new plants in the pots, but there was no one coming by to water them, so that was not possible.

But now this winter, I put in a few plants, a flowering Kale and a Chrysanthemum, which will do fine without attention. And next summer, if we can get an Anacortes resident to be the Waterer, we can plant all kinds of things.

So the garden grows, but as many people have asked me, everything in the house is just the way it was, all the books and paper and paintings and pottery, and little notes stuck here and there. All that can be preserved as it is, and the Trustees are seeing to that.

And one more thing –

Hail the Dead.
dunja and I toasted with sake,
scattering corn chips in the garden.
dunja is my esteemed YOGA teacher,
and she’s Irish like me.
Robert was Irish too – Tibetan-Irish, actually.
We scattered the corn chips, two-years-old.
They were in a glass jar in the kitchen for two years,
since Robert died.
I told dunja, “They’re getting old. We can’t keep everything.”
She said, “Let me taste one – Yes, they’re rancid.”
That’s what she said.
This is a faithful recording of the event,
The scattering of the corn chips on the
Second Anniversary of the Poet’s Death,
scattering corn chips in the garden to feed the mice.
Robert had a relationship with mice,
which was problematic.

The corn chips are gone.
Dunja left to do her business.
I threw out the rest of the old food in the ice box
and scrubbed it down – the old mold is gone now.
The ice box smells fresh and sweet and new.

Otherwise nothing has changed and
everything is in its place.
Thus ends my report.
Fred Owens