Boatman
Mary Soon Lee

Special cargo, the lieutenant told Shu. Top speed, don’t dock at towns.
Ten men who can help you out on the barge. And twenty horses. Shu
knew better than to tell the lieutenant the river was running rough,
glutted with spring rain, horse-spooking. The horses came aboard nice
and easy enough, and the ten men worked hard and willing. Didn’t
give their names. Dressed like stablehands, except they carried swords
and Shu saw bow-cases in their baggage. Their leader a quiet man,
lean, alert, surefooted. Took Shu a couple of days to notice how the
quiet man watched after an even quieter man, mute or silent, blue scarf
wrapped round his neck day and night, who did most of the grunt-work
with the horses. Took the storm for Shu to finish putting it together.
Bolts of lightning, rain in sheets, thunder fit to break his eardrums.
Men and horses belowdecks, the man with the scarf going from horse
to horse, laying his hands on them, his scarred hands, patient, and the
horses watching him, still, calm. Unnatural. Only it didn’t feel
unnatural, it felt right. Like a shepherd calming a lambing ewe. Or the
king, Shu’s king, on his way to war, looking after his horses.

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Mary Soon Lee
Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She has won the Elgin Award and the Rhysling Award for her poetry, more of which may be read at http://www.thesignofthedragon.com.