Harvena Richter has lived in the same rambling adobe on Candelaria Road in Albuquerque's north valley since 1972. But the Richter family story in the Duke City begins much before that. Her father, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Conrad Richter
, sold their small Pine Tree Farm in Pennsylvania and moved to Albuquerque in 1928, looking for a cure for his wife's tuberculosis. His difficulty in trying to make a living here during the depression as a writer is documented by David R. Johnson in Conrad Richter: A Writer's Life
and is a "must read" for any struggling writer in Albuquerque today. (The Richters descend from the train in downtown Albuquerque on page 112).
By the early 50's the family had left ABQ. Harvena toured Europe. She tells a fictionalized account of her real trip riding a Vespa from Genoa to Teheran back in 1956! Passage to Teheran
, published in 2004, and several other of her books are available online
. Her scooter is visible in the cover photo of the book. Simply amazing.
Ms. Richter turns 93 this Saturday.
The following poems look back to Pine Tree Farm and are from The Innocent Island
All your life you go forward,
then comes the day to start the journey back,
unrolling roads like bobbins of thread,
ravelling miles like old sweaters
to reach the place
sealed in your skull.
It's all there,
like mille fleurs in crystal:
the tree towers, the creek holes,
the hide-aways, the sand pit
with gobs of frogs' eggs
like plastic eyes,
the copperhead coiled in the sun
on the sill of the outhouse,
the bloody fox skin nailed
to the barn side, its smell
caustic as skunk.
All's hived away,
sweet, sour, rich, rank
as buckwheat honey....
I see myself as a child.
I have just come back to the farm--
another family lives there.
I move in a mist across
the log bridge, up the lane
where the bittersweet used to hang,
and the chicken grapes.
The old barn holds horses now,
the house has grown,
the woodshed is not there.
I follow the invisible path
past the rhubarb patch
and suddenly see her:
her hair is pulled back,
a single barrette clamps it,
she is wearing
her father's old felt hat.
She turns as if she knows
and gives me a level glance.
She wishes me to go--
I disturb the full sense of her life.
She feels a cold wind blow.
It is she now who is real,
and I the ghost of her future,
the specter she will meet
at the road's turning.
Five years on a farm that scarcely was a farm--
no animals or fowl inside the barn,
no butcherings. I never even knew
the common barnyard matings.
I made my own mythologies of land and beast,
how spirits lived in every bush and tree,
how creature brought forth creature magically.
O innocent island, ringed with innocence,
it might have risen straight up from the sea
with seventy swans singing.
Sin was no question--everything was whole,
whole as the egg whose shell need not be broken
to know what lies inside.
I palmed that egg, and tipped it back and forth
to feel its yellow sun now rise, now set,
a hidden island in an inland sea.
My eye became that island, yolked in blue:
it swung full circle, missed no sail or fin.
Like a space mariner I reeled from world to world--
each tree, or rock, or flower became an earth:
each was miraculous, each cradled all.
Poetry submissions are welcome. Email email@example.com. The whole Sunday Poem series is available from the front page of the DCF by clicking on The DitchRider in the left-hand sidebar. Poems early in the series are archived under "previous post" at the bottom of The DitchRider blog.