INSTINCTS #7: ‘Midnight’ by Mary Soon Lee

 

Welcome to June’s edition of INSTINCTS!

I’m very excited to share a poem from Mary Soon Lee’s epic fantasy collection, ”The Sign of the Dragon” today! This is one of two poems she has graciously submitted for INSTINCTS. Several of her poems are also featured in ‘Insignia: Asian Flash Fiction & Poetry.

purplelanterns-crop

MIDNIGHT

Tsung should not have come–
useless to pretend he came
to celebrate–
he stood in darkness
by Moon Swan’s tent.

Two battles. Two victories.
In the distance,
a soldier’s drunken laughter.

Nearer, from Moon Swan’s tent,
rustlings, the murmur of her voice,
the sound of a man
celebrating.

Tsung, captain of the king’s guards,
waited outside.

Soon enough, the man left
and Moon Swan stepped out
to hang the purple-shaded lantern
that advertised her availability,
her long hair pinned in a bun,
a faint fragrance of jasmine
as she moved.

“Captain Tsung.” She bowed.
“An unanticipated pleasure.
Seeing you after so long,
my heart lifts like the wings
of the swallows the day we met.”

Lantern still in her hand,
she led him inside.

She who’d sold her time to kings,
gestured to the bamboo mat
on the dirt floor of the tent.
(The mat, a bed roll, the lantern,
water boiling on a brazier,
a chest, a teapot, two tea bowls.
Nothing else.)

Tsung set his weapons down,
sat cross-legged on the mat.

Moon Swan poured Tsung a bowl of tea,
sat down opposite him.
“What is wrong?”

“Nothing. I am well.”
He took a sip of tea,
noticing neither the taste
nor its heat,
only Moon Swan’s face,
his own confusion.

She reached over,
laid her fingers lightly
on the pulse of his wrist.
“The young king,
is that what troubles you?”

Tsung shook his head,
though Moon Swan was correct.
Tsung’s duty to protect King Xau,
the king but a boy of seventeen,
a boy who might be killed
a hundred ways–

Tsung made himself smile.
“King Xau is well.”

“Is he like his father?”
Moon Swan unpinned her hair,
as Tsung had seen her do
the first night Xau’s father visited her,
years ago,
when Tsung was the youngest
of King Hao’s guards,
left to stand in a corner
not knowing whether to watch
(in case the king was attacked)
or look away–

“No, he is not like his father.”

“A weaker king?”

“A better king.”
Tsung did not elaborate.
He took another sip of tea,
set the bowl down.
He should not have come,
should have stayed near the boy–
he got to his feet,
bowed. “I must leave.”

Moon Swan stood,
placed her hand on Tsung’s jacket
over his pounding heart.
“Stay, Captain. Rest.
You will do the king poor service
if you are worn out.”

A truth there,
but he hadn’t come
seeking rest–
Moon Swan standing so close,
her hand over his heart,
her long hair unbound,
the smell of her
mingled with jasmine–
heat in Tsung’s face,
heat hard below.

He put one hand to her long hair.

*

Later
(after he was done,
after he’d told Moon Swan
such things as men said
when they thought
themselves in love,
after she’d told him
that she loved him
and he’d smiled
thinking that she said that
to all her customers
yet liking it anyway,
after he’d fallen asleep
beside her)
Moon Swan lay awake,
breathing him in,
watching over the man
who watched over the king.

*First published in “Crowned: The Sign of the Dragon: Book 1”, Dark Renaissance Books, 2015.

~~~

SignoftheDragon-Mary-Soon-Lee-194x300

 Drawing on Chinese and Mongolian elements, award-winning poet Mary Soon Lee has penned an epic tale of politics, intrigue, and dragons perfect for fans of Game of Thrones and Beowulf.

As the fourth-born prince of Meqing, Xau was never supposed to be king. But when his three older brothers are all deemed unfit to rule and eaten by a dragon, as is the custom, Xau suddenly finds himself on the Meqinese throne. The early years of his reign are marred by brutal earthquakes and floods, and the long-simmering tension with the neighboring country of Innis finally erupts into war. Worst of all, a demon thought long-dead walks the realm again, leaving death and destruction in its wake. In a desperate gamble, Xau must broker an uneasy peace with his former enemies and hope their combined strength is enough to vanquish the demon before it destroys them all.

The Sign of the Dragon is comprised of over 300 individual poems, including the Rhysling-winning “Interregnum.” Collected together in its entirety for the very first time, with over 200 never-before-published poems, readers can finally enjoy King Xau’s story of sacrifice and war and dragons from beginning to end.

~~~

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. Her two latest books are from opposite ends of the poetry spectrum: “Elemental Haiku,” containing haiku for each element of the periodic table, was published by Ten Speed Press in 2019, and “The Sign of the Dragon,” an epic fantasy with Chinese and Mongolian elements, has just been published as an ebook.

Mary’s blog: http://www.marysoonlee.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarySoonLee

Links to Mary’s books:

“Elemental Haiku”: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/605873/elemental-haiku-by-mary-soon-lee/9781984856630/

“The Sign of the Dragon”: http://awfulagent.com/ebooks/mary-soon-lee#POE

~~~

Interested in submitting to INSTINCTS? Check out our Poetry Submission Page for details.

~~~

*Featured Photo by Alex Harmuth on Unsplash

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