For the Ladies

and also for Rachel

When the armies go off to war, The Ladies wait behind, sip cool drinks, fan themselves with the fans of mourning. At noon they stand together and practice their lamentations, their sad bravery. In the evenings they are birds, and drink at mossy wells, eat green cress until their mouths are stained. They do not know the way of the warrior at war; neither do the armies know the secret lives of The Ladies, nor do they wonder. Honor is a stern recognition of which knowledge brings happiness and which tragedy.

When the armies return, perhaps victorious, perhaps not, but honorable still, in either case, The Ladies will shower the warriors with flowers and twists of red paper, and whisper deep in their throats the seven proper salutations. This is the way of The Ladies, to be appreciative, to be withdrawn, to be cool in the twilight. Many come to The Ladies, and many depart; not for everyone is the sorbet in a crystal glass, not for everyone is the endless wind and the taste of cress.

Far away are the red skies and the brown trees of the warriors, far away is the flame, but The Ladies, no less than the armies, are old masters of discipline and the path of right action.