In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
if there were a fire in a museum which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who didn't have many
years left anyhow? Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we'd opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly. Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother's face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half-imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the women decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility,
This fall in a real museum I stand
before the real Rembrandt,[1] old women,
or nearly so, myself. The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter - the browns of earth,
through earth's most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that women
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond saving by children.

  1. Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn (1609-1669), Greatest master of the Dutch school of painting. ↩︎