Love’s Ambition

Betsy Wyeth died yesterday
Aged 98
A decade and more after Andrew –
Does Helga live still?
Of course she must
Whether dead or alive
Betsy and Andrew ensured that
With his paintings and her word:

Betsy’s long life
Merited a long article
Only because she was
Andrew’s wife, muse, model,
Business manager, archivist,

That revealed secret
The Helga paintings
With one word
Became the art world’s
Enduring fake news:

240 paintings?
Of one woman?
A married neighbor?
Nudes painted
In secret assignations
Over 15 years?
Without the knowledge
Or consent of either spouse?
By America’s premier classicist?

Oh the scandal
Oh the juiciness
Oh the titillation
Oh the mystery
Oh the prominence
Oh the profit!

No president
No diplomat
No philanthropist
No artist, even,
Graced the covers
Of Time and Newsweek
That fateful –
Or was it fakeful –
Dog days week in 1986
That privilege was reserved
For Helga
While Betsy smiled enigmatically
And said only

With Betsy dies the secret
Of what love:
Andrew for Helga
Or Betsy for ambition?

I prefer to believe in Betsy’s canny ambition.

In a puritanical America,
shocked by pubic hair,
she made her husband’s sensuous renderings
a very public front page story.

Because she knew
Americans love nothing more
than to be titillated by scandal
and shocked by wanton

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