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vol v, issue 4 < ToC
The Dead
by Mary Soon Lee
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interviewThe Canticle of
Jamal HodgeChak Thel
The Dead
by Mary Soon Lee
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interview
Jamal Hodge




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The Canticle of
Chak Thel
The Dead
by Mary Soon Lee
previous next

interviewThe Canticle of
Jamal HodgeChak Thel
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interview
Jamal Hodge




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The Canticle of
Chak Thel
The Dead  by Mary Soon Lee
The Dead
 by Mary Soon Lee
Before the eyes of men,
beneath the eye of the sun,
rode King Xau and his four men.

Ahead, resplendent, in the Lotus Crescent,
at the entrance to King Tahj's palace,
a thousand of Tahj's Royal Guard.

But Tahj's soldiers outnumbered
by the mass of people who had waited,
barefoot, white-robed, since dawn.

In desert heat, King Xau dismounted:
too thin, too pale, thirsty, sandy,
his tunic travel-stained.

No one spoke in all the thousands
as Xau watered the horses,
as he pulled off his boots.

"Baraz," said Xau, the single word
carrying in the stillness, as he took
from a saddlebag a white marble urn.

A man walked out of the crowd,
bearded, stooped, his white robes immaculate.
Behind him, a woman wailed.

Xau gave the urn to the man,
who set it down,
who pressed Xau's hands in his,
who wept, tears drying to salt on his cheeks.
Xau stood, no more than that.
The man said, brokenly, "Baraz,"
lifted the urn and left.

"Jafir," said Xau
as he took from a saddlebag
a second white urn.

A man walked toward him,
heavy, balding, his white robes immaculate.
From the crowd, manyfold, sobbing.

Xau gave the urn to the man,
who set it down,
who kissed Xau's forehead, his cheeks.
Xau stood, no more than that.
He had watched this man's son, Jafir,
kill one of his guards,
could not set that death down,
held it,
sharp,
with the others,
back and back and back
to his father,
whose death Xau had warded by anger
for so long.
Jafir's father lifted the urn
with his son's ashes.

"Nahr," said Xau and took out a third urn.

A man walked over,
tall, beak-nosed, gulping noisily,
white robes crumpled.

Nahr's father set the urn down,
folded Xau in his arms,
Xau whom his son had poisoned,
Xau who had slain his son,
but had let that death slip,
lightly,
a thing of no weight,
no guilt, no cost,
that he would do again
if it would bring back
one of his guards.
Xau shivered, despite the heat,
as Nahr's father held him,
as he lifted the death
he had let slip,
heavy as granite.
Salt on Xau's face.

Sunlight on the burnished splendor
of King Tahj's thousand soldiers.
Of King Tahj himself, no sign.

Xau helped Nahr's father lift the urn,
fastened the saddlebags,
put his boots back on.

"King Xau!" called out a woman
as he mounted his horse,
as the crowd knelt.


("The Dead" first appeared in The Sign of the Dragon, winner of this year's Elgin Award.)