Having become an expert at false tones
as the voices slide lower or higher than intended
out of control, having heard so many lies
seen so many faces altering crazily
trying to hide their real motives,
having pondered the fate of those who came to consult her
and how little difference any words make,
her gaze is now withdrawn and watchful as a diplomat’s.
Her lips, though still full, meet firmly in a straight hard line.
But her feathered cloak and tall head-dress of glorious plumage
are so elegant, no one can resist her.
The Emperor comes to hear her pronounce almost daily.
All the rich men’s wives copy her style.
Alone at last, she strips off her regalia
lets the fine cloak drop to the floor
pushes strong fingers through the stubble of cropped hair
and climbs into the deep stone bath of water so cold
that even at the height of summer she shudders, and in winter
the effort of will the action demands
has become her greatest indulgence.
Only then is she able to think of the god and wait his pleasure.
from This Time of Year (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993), © Ruth Fainlight 1993, used by permission of the author