No excuse for being

When I ask my old friend, former professor and colleague D
about another former professor and colleague F, he presses
his fingers together to make a tent and sighs.

It’s a shame, he says, shaking his head. What a waste
of a mind, of talent. He confirmed the stories I’d heard
of how she’d turned into a kind of recluse; and also,

gin first thing in the morning and on into night, the way
she now wore only the clothes of the artist-lover
she cared for until his death— rumpled,

perhaps unwashed, unaired, steeped in the smell
of linseed and turpentine; the way she no longer
combed her once lustrous hair and wished

over and over for herself to die, to pass
from this earth which no longer held any charm.
This was the woman who lectured with such fervor

on beauty being its own excuse for being, and read
from Emerson: Here might the red-bird come his plumes
to cool, And court the flower that cheapens his array.

It saddens me a little to think how the ordinary flower
came to conclude it had no excuse itself for being, until
the beautiful red bird calling itself love came along.

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