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Issue 52 • April 2024
Dragons
edited by SFPA staff

Table of Contents

Editor’s IntroductionSFPA staff

Queen Fu Hao • Deborah L. Davitt
The Strange Old Carp • Garrett W. Vance
Even in Fire, Desire Remains • Akis Linardos
The Last Dragon’s Lament • Stuart Conover
Menomin’s Dragon • Sandra J. Lindow
The Last Dragon • Ngo Binh Anh Khoa
Meetings of the Dragon Book Club • Jenny Thompson
Dragonette • Elizabeth Kuelbs
Yet I Dare • Robin Rose Graves
Wyrm • F. J. Bergmann
The Bog Dragon • Daniel Bulone
pawns • D. A. Xiaolin Spires
To the Draconis amonkirae Who Visits My Desert Garden • Carol Edwards
Remember Me • R. Jean Bell
The Dragon’s Dirge • R. W. Thorne
Frost Dragon • Linda Kay Hardie
You can defang the dragon, but it’s a dragon still • H. V. Patterson
Dragon Tanka (or Dragon Heart) • Sharmon Gazaway
As Within, So Without • Lachlan R.
Phantasy • Julie Shiel
Dragons • John C. Mannone
Project Cyvern • Nick Zverloff
A Dragon to Slay • J. K. Graves
Dragon’s Wisdom • Justine Norton-Kertson
What Guards the Mesa • Bunny McFadden
The Year of the Dragon • Christina Tang-Bernas
the dragons of old stone walls • Marisca Pichette
On Dragon Food • Mary Soon Lee
Anno Naga • Bryan Thao Worra
Stardragon Ecdysis • Delta Caelum
Bakunawa the Sea Dragon Eats the Fifth Moon • Vince Gotera



Queen Fu Hao


When they heated the prepared ox-bone
it cracked into the form of a dragon—
the priests and diviners were surprised
at what this meant for the baby girl
whose future it foretold

Royalty, martial glory, marital harmony
all these, and a short life,
a young death,
all these would belong to Fu Hao,
Lady Hao.

Sent at a young age to the Shang emperor,
one of sixty-four wives from lesser kingdoms
she served mostly as a priestess at first
but retained control of her own lands—
she accorded her lord husband tributes
in her own name, made sacrifices as he bade—

did she ever heat the bones for herself,
as questions of the ancestors and watch
as the pattern of cracks
unfailingly formed the dragon?

She rose to be his second queen of three,
three consorts not quite co-equal,
bore him a son, and then
rode to war as a general—
bronze tablets record her successes
against Yi, Qiang and Ba.

Did she know when the cracks
formed the symbol for death
that glory could carry her no further?

Was she aware when, after her death,
her husband carried out sacrifices at her tomb,
calling on her spirit for aid against his enemies?

Did she notice when he declared her spirit wed
to not one, but three other great kings,
knitting her to his ancestors?

The bones know. The bones whisper
in cracks and shapes and symbols
and every time
they say one word:
dragon.

—Deborah L. Davitt


The Strange Old Carp


The strange old carp lies
on the temple pond’s bottom
a bed of soft silt
dim under lily pad shade
the monks say he’s an odd thing

The strange old carp sleeps
resting here three hundred years
some sounds make him stir
New Year bells ring through the night
beneath star-splashed winter skies

The strange old carp dreams
the water tastes of spring rain
he leaps into air
through inky clouds he wanders
while dancing to the thunder

The strange old carp wakes

—Garrett W. Vance


Even in Fire, Desire Remains


Crimson clouds choked our city
After we murdered the widowed Crone
Priestess of virgin-keeping
Doomsayer, man-whisperer, gold-grabber,
Conjurer of oppressive tales that claimed our lust
Forbidden

If only we’d crushed her under our claws
Before her envy sucked the lifeforce of the sky
Before she supplanted starlight with burning rain
And sucked the clouds and air into her
Lungs, hollowed by her own love’s absence
Now a heart supplanted by magma

As sky whirlwinds with the Crone’s dragonfire
Villagers blame the blood on our hands, how our hands touch
Uncaring to disprove I roar, let fire engulf the world
And our desire remain, burning brighter than the flame

—Akis Linardos


The Last Dragon’s Lament

In ancient realms, where shadows weave,
Where silent spirits softly grieve,
A dragon dwells, in silent halls,
Where each moment’s echo softly falls

Majestic wings, now folded tight,
Once cleaved the air in fearless flight,
Its eyes, like embers, deep and wise,
Reflect the ages, earth, and skies.

In days of yore, it reigned supreme,
Its breath, a searing, fiery stream,
Its scales, a tapestry of night,
Gleamed ’neath the moon’s light.

Elves and men, in awe, did stand,
Before this creature, bold and grand,
Its roar, a symphony of power,
Echoed through each mountain tower.

Yet time, relentless, marched along,
Dimming the echoes of its song,
The kin of dragons, one by one,
Faded like mist ’neath the rising sun.

Now, solitude’s unyielding chain,
Weighs heavy, like eternal rain,
For what is power, boundless, vast,
When echoes of kin are but the past?

In dreams, it soars through open skies,
Where phantom dragons’ calls arise,
But dawn brings back the silent truth,
An endless void, devoid of youth.

The elves, once friends, now lost in time,
Men, too, have left the dragon’s clime,
It dwells alone, in silent plea,
A solemn guardian of memory.

So, there it waits, in silent yearn,
For the world’s wheel to once more turn,
For kin to rise, for bonds to mend,
With new hope, the last dragon ascends.

—Stuart Conover


Menomin’s Dragon


Dragon flew long and settled in Menomonee land
near a lake edged by wild rice, called Menomin,
its smoke happily enhanced by tobacco
and hemp burned in a special part of its gullet.
The people called it Nanabush, Nanaboujou
Sometimes appearing male, sometimes female,
sometimes a mere trick of the light on a bright day,
Dragon was a shapechanger, gender fluid.
Immortal and infertile, it lived well
in coneflower and goldenrod prairie and old-growth
temperate forest, smoking fish and popping corn
that could be flavored with maple sugar.
Early on there were wooly mammoths
who liked to tell stories under autumn moons.
Life was good until other settlers came
and the sound of sawmills gave it a headache,
and Dragon shook its heavy whiskers and slipped
beneath a logging boom at the Red Cedar mouth
to sleep, shrinking, becoming mere essence.

Centuries passed until change shivered cattail roots.
A silent alarm echoing off the Red Cedar dam
woke the dragon from its dreaming: pollution,
weather change, social isolation, and Dragon
reconfigured, rising from the lake bottom, taking
what it needed: sandstone and limestone, a firm
understanding, white pine and oak logs left by loggers,
a steamboat, sunk in a storm, Christmas trees
left on the ice, car parts and mattress springs, essences
of white tail deer, beaver, and river otter, northern pike,
muskellunge, mallard, and eagle. Fishing lures
and ice shack popups, a necklace of live carp,
and Dragon filled the bay below the town library,
a living edifice, a sign that said Community Center
below a second-floor bandstand and open-air dance floor:
The people came to gawk and then to mingle,
toasting marshmallows on an open-mouth hearth,
bringing offerings of laughter, song, and stories.
The weather was mild, the lake clean. Litterers,
polluters, and child abusers were among the disappeared,
and Nanabush laughed, a subsonic rumble, warming
the floors in winter with its refound pleasure.

—Sandra J. Lindow


The Last Dragon


the last dragon puffs out fire
in front of the cheering kids
a timeless majesty
in a fantastic zoo

—Ngo Binh Anh Khoa


Meetings of the Dragon Book Club

can be quite competitive affairs
as each dragon proudly shows off their hoard:
one brings knowledge of the legendary lost lore,
lugging in piles of prior publications, teeming with
trivia—collected carefully over centuries;
another growls over her many grievances
accumulated against chauvinist writers,
and held so close, they cut like her clear diamonds;
yet another fetches facts, always ready to elucidate
how no mere scribe can match his comprehension
of the science, after decades of dedicated study.
You might say the discussion can get a bit heated,
yet month after month, the dragons fold their wings
and lumber into the cavern under the library
to show off their treasures to their own kind,
grudgingly admiring the compulsive collections,
because they all see themselves in any obsession.

—Jenny Thompson


Dragonette


See this little bag of burn, all star-lust, all glint-starve,
diamond rain her fresh obsession, tip-clawing from

her stone den to the roaring hearth when all the nest’s
asleep. See her there with no worm to bite her slight

wings down, leaping up to the grand, wide mantel,
molting heat beneath the flames framing the divine

portrait that scorches her new eyes hungry: the Queen,
jaws spread to a gem-stormed world, constellations dashed

in her gargantuan wake. Little ash, will she drool sparks,
craving the sweetness of devouring her very own sky, or will

in from the nest’s open mouth           a tender breath           bend
the everywhere fires, shiver that fork           in her soft pink tongue?

—Elizabeth Kuelbs


Yet I Dare


yet I dare
meet his gaze

I sound my yawp
and charge

alone
he will be the one
to defeat me

but grant me another life
and I will choose to die
every time
than let the dragon win
without a fight

—Robin Rose Graves


Wyrm


my name is wyrm
an wen i flie
no aegle ketch me
in the skie

i loupe the loupe
in flamey ringgs
i eat aegles
an buzzy thinggs

—F. J. Bergmann


The Bog Dragon

In the fen land’s fetid fog
Stalks the Dragon of the Bog.
Turtle-shelled, it loves to sink
To the bottom of the stink.
Other dragons laugh and jeer,
Yet within its shell, it hears

Sizzle-drop and sizzle-hiss:
Dissipating morning mist.

How a single flower sings
When it spreads its petal-wings

Tadpoles’ joyous feasting cry
At the crunch of fresh-caught flies.

And the yawn of swamp oak trees
Stretching to eternity.

Other dragons flash and glow.
This one quiets, listens, knows.

—Daniel Bulone


pawns


from her long lips
a stream of hot steam
“you tricked me”
she screamed
shrill and thunderous

“you were bested”
was the calm reply

“beaten by a pawn”
she hissed
her snake tail whipping

a clatter of xiangqi pieces
tiles falling like rain
huge droplets

pitter patter—

below, the humans
looked up—
pawns
to the vacillating
elements

—D.A. Xiaolin Spires


To the Draconis amonkirae
Who Visits My Desert Garden


lord of hunters
perched on glass
glittering ruby and jade

mistaken for

the summer’s first
hummingbird
to grace my patio shade

keenly watches

vicious water thieves
too afraid
to peck my succulents’ leaves

blinking nervously

coos aflutter
in their throats
under its hypnotic gaze.

—Carol Edwards


Remember Me


A cold muzzle nudges me awake
and I lift the blanket in invitation.
She slithers in with the frosty air
and curls tight against my front.

I shiver as she steals my warmth.
Her scales are as smooth and cold
as a block of lake-cut ice
beneath my arm and her breathing
so slow I can’t detect the rise
and fall of her ribs.

I drift back to sleep
when she relaxes,
her tail draping over my thighs
and her still-blunt flattened spines
jabbing the flab of my belly.

Later still her whimpers penetrate
my dreams but I’m too drowsy
to shift the blanket before her talons
rip and shred the fabric as she
flees the night mare.

I croon a lullaby,
gently stroking her neck.
She quiets and shifts her head
onto my pillow.

Her sulphurous breath mingles
with mine. I caress the bony ridge
above her eye as my own
overflow.

Soon her fires will ignite
and she’ll no longer seek
my warmth in the chill of night.

When her armor hardens,
and her wings grow strong—
when her flames crackle
to be free…

will she remember me?

—R. Jean Bell


The Dragon’s Dirge


Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

            —Robert Burns, “To a Mouse

What have we here? Another glaikit wean
    Who thought to make himself a king of men
    And came into my tomb, galumphing then
To seek the treasure of ten thousand thanes.

Doth fear or jealous favour glint thine eyes?
    See what the gold of ev’ry empire brings:
    Sharp comet teeth, and warship sails for wings
That cast eclipse whene’er above, I rise.

Gaze and learn squire, what power truly is—
    The thickest skin, the brains, the largest size
    The meanest bite, the flame, the cruellest eyes—
Not pluck, nor nerve, nor men’s empty speeches.

Above my threshold, there ye saw my phrase:
    Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
    Hope cannot make you king. Only the fear
of thy subjects, thine enemies, thy babes.

Yet hoping still, you dug that downward path
    Your beady eyes agleam with dreams of fame
    And found yourself within my dark demesne
And thought you’d catch the world’s last laugh

Till crash, wee cur! Ye woke this wyrm of old
    The beast of yore ye scorned to think could lurk
    So far beneath your childhood country’s earth
And laughed off tales your shrunken elders told.

You took your stance and drew your kilt-pin sword
    And prayed ye’d be the first to pierce these scales
    Then cried to me your name, to no avail,
In hopes a God would bow and call ye Lord.

So don your taj! I’ve plenty gold to spare;
    Speak out your writs, caged in your gaudy throne,
    Give gilded wits, mark sins you must atone,
And raise your bloodline fast within my lair

It shan’t go far. O soon, your crown shall find
    This desert’s jewelled dunes shift. The moat you crawled
    To glory cannot be retraced, and walls
Of castles coat the hole you left behind

And as your wails light up my cave, you’ll turn
    To fly, but find those silver sollerets
    You stole sink fast; knee-deep with eyes ablaze,
Too late you’ll learn, my liege: all kingdoms burn.

—R. W. Thorne


Frost Dragon

fangs hang from my eaves,
breath crystallizes on my window.
blowing puffs of snow nip at my ears

a downy dragon with soft white scales
drapes itself over the acres,
turning my familiar domain
into a frozen kingdom

—Linda Kay Hardie


You can defang the dragon,
but it’s a dragon still


And what of its teeth?
The child Cadmus found them,
impaled palm on cutting canines,
fed blood to bone,
thrilling in the sharpness of need

He loved the teeth so
that he swallowed the smallest,
size and color of a peeled almond.
It blistered, carnivorous malice
seeded in his stomach

He dreamed of dragons;
the dragon dreamed of him.
Uneven trade, like all communions

Cadmus was kind
despite stigmata scarring palm,
despite tooth festering,
throbbing bezoar,
despite parental disapproval
frosting rage to silence.
He fled home at eighteen,
screen door smacking his heels.

The dragon found Cadmus,
demanded what was stolen.
Looking into the dragon,
Cadmus beheld his own hunger.
He reached into his pocket.
Scarred skin caught on bone,
palm overflowed with canines.
The dragon’s mouth opened
as Cadmus tossed the teeth.
An arc of ivory sharp as love
sliced through air.
Bone snagged gum, rooting in proper soil

The dragon bowed,
Cadmus bowed back,
they went their separate ways

But Cadmus’ gut throbbed
where the smallest canine lay,
consumed, entombed,
swaddled in scar tissue,
rocked by gastric currents

At night, Cadmus feels the ache of ravening,
stigmata in the gut.
His dreams are bloody with dragons.

—H.V. Patterson


Dragon Tanka
(or Dragon Heart)


they all covet it—
my treasured heart
its magic
its power and sight

but I laugh long—I have no heart

—Sharmon Gazaway


As Within, So Without


The dragon is dancing,
and singing, and quaffing alchemical concoctions,
each with a delightful effect on his natural chymistry.
Silver, the metal of the Moon, makes the flames
pale and indifferent, and yet it cuts through the night
and holds your eyes to its magic.
Gold, the metal of the Sun, makes the flames
honeyed and friendly, and yet mixed with the promise
that they will one day consume the world.

—Lachlan R.


Phantasy


I stood on the bluff where the sea licked the sand
as the new moon rose above shadow cast strand
when over the indigo ocean that night
a starlit symphony of dragons in flight.
With their leathery arms they broke for the sky
and soared for the stars where they hung way up high
the drakes circled round on kaleidoscope wings
and challenged each other to racing in rings.
A glow from the east and a sky filled with fire
the dragon queen dared them to fly even higher
the dragons all vied for the queen’s burning heart—
a sable stood out as above and apart.
My breath almost stopped at their cliffside romance
their courtship an ecstatic aerial dance
a ritual battle held over the sea
their talons together then dropping swiftly.
A fiery scream as their tails intertwined
a mating for life as they slowly unwind.
I watched as the thunder of dragons flew west
with enraptured eyes and an ache in my chest.
I’ve returned to the cliffs for many a year
And prayed for chimerical wyrms to appear
I wake up each morning still seeing these things
And every night since I have dreamed I grew wings.

—Julie Shiel



Project Cyvern


a serpentine body blazes through soot-filled skies
fire, bullets, and heated claws rip through cold steel
his roar a sonic boom, ignition from the sky
he demands blood, funds, fear, and worship from the world
satellites fall
earth’s masters pay tribute to their digital lord
offspring infected all the world’s computers
he laughs upon his throne, data and destruction
a digital dragonslayer must save us from
Project Cyvern

—Nick Zverloff


A Dragon to Slay

It appeared, scales shining bright
Its fiery tongues to split the night
With each new glint, it spilled our blood
Until it sped from hard-wrought flood
Where lay all round split flesh and bone
With I, in grief, bereft—alone.

There to ancient gods, I prayed,
Asked them bless and speed my way—
Lo, pled I, my cause is just
Only vengeance slakes my lust
To kill the beast, to wreak my wrath.
So I started on my path.

At its lair, my fire blazes
Vengeance hot brings smoke that hazes
I hear wretched, bestial cries
As each bursts aflame and dies!
One remains than others brighter
Scales do shine on fierce-eyed fighters

In silence there, we watch and wait
In one another, we see our fate.
Fire blooms upon the plain
Where blood and ash have bounteous rained
By fire and by steel’s cruel flash
Flesh bites and burns and down we crash!

To hated foe cast failing eye
And curse him with my final sigh—
That, ever broken by my wrath,
Eternal peace escape the grasp
Of knight in steel, whose blood soaks through,
The knight whom I, Great Blackwing, slew.

—J. K. Graves


Dragon’s Wisdom


Lava flows down mountains into seas,
like dragon’s fertile breath pollinating the breeze.

The people rise up against lordly estates
the dragon’s insight steers their fates.

Flames shoot out from desert wells
dragon fire devouring angels bred in Hell.

In the cradle of the earth, ancient secrets dwell,
humans learn to harvest solar cells.

Turbines spin like dragons dancing in the sky,
clean wings using summer breeze to fly.

Currents roars harnessed—hydro’s mighty surge—
dragons in harmony, machine and nature merged.

No more smoke to choke the sky as before.
Dragons have risen to open a door.

In cities bright with hope, once riddled with plight,
seek and find a balance, bathed in softlight.

And so the dragons rest, their flames no longer burn,
humans now tend to the Earth, for there is much to learn.

In harmony they thrive, their futures intertwined,
reborn from ash, with dragon wisdom signed.

—Justine Norton-Kertson


What Guards the Mesa


High above the Rio Grande is a banquet table laid in mantis, celadon, and tea green
The doughy red earth erodes at the corners of the table and cascades into canyons
Rivulets come when the monsoon clouds roil overhead
Something sleeps there among sagebrush and winterfat, cattle bones and creosote bushes

It worms around on the mesa in the windy months, flightless in the dust
Its skull is heavy on a long, slithering neck and its wings are thin to cool in the southwestern sun
In autumn the people roast chile in turning baskets and the smoke drifts up to it like offerings
And in winter it hides among the clouds that blanket the Sandias

Another tongue would call it dragon, box the ancient into a familiar existence with a word
But here in the Land of Enchantment the people revere in silence
Thunder does not need a name to boom
And things that fly will fly at sunset above the calderas, seen or not

—Bunny McFadden


The Year of the Dragon


you were born in the year of the dragon, lóng nián, and they said what luck, they said fortune has come, fú dào lè, and they named you fú, they called you xiǎo lóng, little dragon. You looked at the world through shrimp-black eyes, hanging upside-down, dào lè on the jungle gym and howled through your dog-loud muzzle, smile as big as a bull’s, you with your lion-mane-bravery, always climbing higher and higher above your fretting parents, always swimming further and further away, body snake-sleek through the water, skin gleaming like fish-scales under the dappled waves. you were nine. nine candles on your birthday cake, the number of dragons. You drew catfish-whiskers on your face with your mother’s eyeliner pencil, and you danced around the house and. and the next day you went to school and. and then someone came, someone you didn’t know, someone who didn’t know you and. and they found your body, eagle-claw-fingers curled against your chest, holding the closet door shut, your friends inside, deer-antler-hard head no match for the power of a gun. you had known what to do. you had practiced so often in school. the sky, tiān looked down and saw you, you who were so brave it wrapped its arms around you, transformed you into a lóng rampaging through the heavens, swimming between the clouds. but your parents how they wept and wept because you had become a lóng and they had said you were fú and you gave fú to others, and they knew, maybe you were always going to be a lóng, but they would rather you had been a child instead.

—Christina Tang-Bernas


the dragons of old stone walls


the dragons of old stone walls

make their nests between chipmunk hoards,
buzz in time with the cicadas in July,
catch mosquitos under dappled shade,
              curl tight as roly-polies at night,
blink in midsummer sun and sleep
              all winter long,
guard their eggs with tongues of miniature flame,
              live just a year, not a fraction
of their domain,
              emerge at sunset, winging higher
than the dragonflies we so often mistake them
              to be.

—Marisca Pichette


On Dragon Food


Since you are not ready
to comprehend the intricacies
of dragon rites and comportment,
I shall commence with our food.

Neither pear nor peach nor pomegranate
can rival the thousand thousand waters
of the Middle Realms—
What is that?! You say water is not food?
Hush! Do not interrupt me
in your woeful ignorance—
such waters are as sustenance to us:
the mists, rains, vapors, fogs,
lakes, springs, streams, rivers
of the Middle Realms.

Likewise, we feast on starlight, moonlight,
the harmonies of the silver river
spread broad upon the midnight sky,
the spear of sunlight,
the sword of lightning,
but never, attend me well,
never the smoke-smirched cinders
of common household fires.

Reflect a moment
upon what I have told you,
then we will progress to presentation.
I would not have you shamed
because you poured a dawn mist
into a bowl meant for moonlight!

—Mary Soon Lee


Anno Naga


The notion of a Naga absorbs
Every idea not a Naga
Therefore a Naga is the one thing
              It is not,

How
A coil of paradox, a brother of
Ouroboros more than Garuda.

It never discusses its Nagatude,
It swims a flowing knife, a rainbow
Until you fit between its tooth,

A scale, a stair, a bridge,
Short of immortal in a flame
Akin a book of babbles.

Within these ashes, a raw diamond?
A phoenix egg perhaps descended from
Some chromatic Mekong ichthyovenator

Or _____thing more?

Wisdom but a bauble, in your mirrors
Would you be a sphinx or Fafnir,
Winding Mahoraga on the edge of Himmapan?

Or a wise word in its jade covert, crowning hydras
Enduring and illuminating between undulations,
Maybe some notable noble shade like a vast Mucilanda?

—Bryan Thao Worra


Stardragon Ecdysis


The space debris is not my larval fossil
but my riders’ memories of my final
melting cradle of ghost-pale
flesh oozing liquid wing.

I was alive once
egg-hatched nuclear flame set adrift
my watery scales yet uncalcified
itching, burning with a caustic need to rupture.

I was a rapture of the deep
full of umbilical hydrogen and runaway hunger
too big for my nebula-sea nursery
my stardragon wings (residual) (pellet fuel)
a victim of the primordial dream.

I wanted to fly, but so did my alien riders
stellar fusion induced to be harnessed
scales bombarded (to bubbles) (to skeleton)
pain transmuted into metal wings
a (city-powering) (fire-breathing)
battery drained to a husk
until the day my concrete prison
e r u p t s.

—Delta Caelum


Bakunawa the Sea Dragon Eats the Fifth Moon


With lightning whip-like sidewinder motion,
million moray eels braided in one body,
Bakunawa builds speed, swimming upward
from the Mindanao Deep, five thousand fathoms
of dark seawater. Schools of whales scurry
out of his way. Breaching, like a huge bird

without wings, Bakunawa corkscrews through air,
opens his enormous maw and bites down hard
on another moon, swallows it—already
he’d eaten, of the Earth’s seven moons, four—
                                then dives deep, ocean’s lord.

According to Philippine myth, there were once seven moons and the Bakunawa dragon ate six of them before the people learned that when he tried to eat a moon, they could make noise (pounding drums and banging pots and pans) to scare him off. And that’s why we still have one moon left in the sky.

—Vince Gotera