Friday, November 10, 2006

An Elegy for Altenbernd

Richard Altenbernd, a.k.a., RA, was a hard-drinking, Camel smoking, womanizing, wood worker who I met about thirty-five years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was Scorpio to my Libra, and November always brings him back around.

RA hailed from the Amana Colonies in Iowa, finished his course work toward a PhD in Political Science at Columbia University, and decided he’d be happier making children’s toys out of wood than pursuing a life in academia, or wherever a Doctorate in Poly Sci leads you.

He branched out from wooden ducks and tug-boats to fine furniture, and exquisite bowls, boxes, and wooden sculptures, but fine artist though he was, he was never really happy.

Richard’s heart somehow turned to mush, and he died after heart transplant surgery – the procedure was a success, but his body was too weak to recover.

He was one of the doomed, and one of my best friends.


Being pressed hard
against time
until life was used up.

The wood you were turning
disappeared in your hands.

You were dying,
but your heart
was perfect.

Your heart was

Was Ebony
and Bird’s Eye Maple

Was Pine
And Juniper

Your perfect heart
had nothing to do
with sickness and transplants.

Your perfect heart
was a coyote song
that wove through
your lifetime of Camels and coffee
desire and desperation
generosity and confusion

Your lifetime of living wood and work…

And your perfect heart
was at the heart
of your lifetime.


Anonymous Rich Binell said...

I remember Richard Altenbernd. Used to live upstairs from his woodshop on Alto Street with Jeff Harnar the architect. He used to lament that he lost his board stretcher. That the best wood finishes would kill you. And how amazing it was that there was such a wood as purpleheart. He made a huge table out of a piece of it. And he made the most beautiful bowls in the history of the world from it. I loved to watch him work.

1:36 AM  
Anonymous Pat Altenbernd Johnson said...

I am Richard's sister. Tahnk you for the poem

8:16 AM  
Blogger Ricardo Furioso said...

It's me again.
I was just thinking that his studio was across the street from the Boy's Club in Santa Fe. We used to laugh about how funny it was that his studio shop was actually in an old bordello. There were still a few of the original ladies' basement rooms that were each outfitted with a door, a sink, and a wood stove.
He thought it was crazy funny that the bordello was across the street from the Boy's Club.
He was a wonderful man.
I miss him.

10:02 AM  

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