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92nd Weekly Poetry Contest winner: Night

by Mary Soon Lee

That night,
King Xau's first night home from war,
with their guards
in the hall outside,
Shazia undressed Xau.

Between them,
between her hand and his skin,
unasked questions:
Did he kill anyone?
How many people?
How many did his army kill?

Shazia undressed Xau,
but he did not reach for her.
(Did he watch men die?
How many men?
How many did he lead to their deaths?)

She told him how the kitten
had chased a moth,
the kitten's tail puffed up
as if the moth were a wolf.
He nodded, but did not smile.

All that night,
he spoke only once,
when they were first alone,
when he told her he loved her,
staring at her oddly
as if she were a fragile thing,
as if she might break
were he to touch her.

They lay six inches apart
in the dimness
of a half-darked lantern.

An hour or more
before Xau reached
for her hand.

Two more nights
before he held her against his body.

A month before he told her
a part of what he'd seen.

(First published in Ship of Fools)

See all the entrants to 92nd Weekly Poetry Contest