Tor.com is celebrating National Poetry Month by featuring science fiction and fantasy poetry from a variety of SFF authors. You’ll find classic works, hidden gems, and new commissions featured on the site throughout the month. Bookmark the Poetry Month index for easy reading.
On this Saturday we’re featuring a new composition from Catherynne M. Valente, “What the Dragon Said: A Love Story.”
“What the Dragon Said: A Love Story”
So this guy walks into a dragon’s lair
and he says
why the long tale?
HAR HAR BUDDY
says the dragon
The dragon’s a classic
the ‘57 Chevy of existential chthonic threats
take in those Christmas colors, those
impervious green scales, sticky candy-red firebreath,
comes standard with a heap of rubylust
Kick the tires, boy.
See how she rides.
Sit down, kid, says the dragon. Diamonds
roll off her back like dandruff.
Oh, you’d rather be called a paladin?
I’d rather be a unicorn.
Always thought that
was the better gig. Everyone thinks
you’re innocent. Everyone calls you
pure. And the girls aren’t afraid
they come right up with their little hands out
for you to sniff
like you’re a puppy
and they’re gonna take you home.
They let you put your head right
in their laps.
But nobody on this earth
ever got what they wanted. Now
I know what you came for. You want
my body. To hang it up on a nail
over your fireplace. Say to some milk-and-rosewater chica
who lays her head in your lap
look how much it takes
to make me feel like a man.
We’re in the dark now, you and me. This is primal
shit right here. Grendel, Smaug, St. George. You’ve been
called up. This is the big game. You don’t have
to make stupid puns. Flash your feathers
like your monkey bravado
can impress. I saw a T-Rex fight a comet
and lose. You’ve
got nothing I want.
Here’s something I bet you don’t know:
every time someone writes a story about a dragon
a real dragon dies.
Something about seeing
and being seen
something about mirrors
that old tune about how a photograph
can take your whole soul. At the end
of this poem
I’m going to go out like electricity
in an ice storm. I’ve made peace with it.
That last blockbuster took out a whole family
of Bhutan thunder dragons
living in Latvia
the fumes of their cleargas hoard
hanging on their beards like blue ghosts.
A dragon’s gotta get zen
You want to cut me up? Chickenscratch my leather
with butcher’s chalk:
cutlets, tenderloin, ribs for the company barbecue,
chuck, chops, brisket, roast.
I dig it, I do.
I want to eat everything, too.
When I look at the world
I see a table.
All those fancy houses, people with degrees, horses and whales,
bankers and Buddha statues
the Pope, astronauts, panda bears and yes, paladins
if you let me swallow you whole
I’ll call you whatever you want.
Look at it all: waitresses and ice caps and submarines down
at the bottom of the heavy lightless saltdark of the sea
Don’t they know they’d be safer
I could be big for them
I could hold them all
My belly could be a city
where everyone was so loved
they wouldn’t need jobs. I could be
post-scarcity dragonhearted singularity.
I could eat them
and feed them
and eat them
and feed them.
This is why I don’t get to be a unicorn.
Those ponies have clotted cream and Chanel No. 5 for blood
and they don’t burn up like comets
with love that tastes like starving to death.
And you, with your standup comedy knightliness,
covering Beowulf’s greatest hits on your tin kazoo,
you can’t begin to think through
what it takes to fill up a body like this.
It takes everything pretty
and everything true
and you stick yourself in a cave because
your want is bigger than you.
I just want to be
the size of a galaxy
so I can eat all the stars and gas giants
without them noticing
and getting upset.
Is that so bad?
what love looks like?
what you want, too?
I’ll make you a deal.
Come close up
stand on my emeraldheart, my sapphireself
the goldpile of my body
Close enough to smell
everything you’ll never be.
Don’t finish the poem. Not for nothing
is it a snake
that eats her tail
and means eternity. What’s a few verses worth
anyway? Everyone knows
poetry doesn’t sell. Don’t you ever feel
like you’re just
a story someone is telling
about someone like you?
I get that. I get you. You and me
we could fit
inside each other. It’s not nihilism
if there’s really no point to anything.
I have a secret
down in the deep of my dark.
All those other kids who wanted me
to call them paladins,
warriors, saints, whose swords had names,
whose bodies were perfect
they’ve set up a township near my liver
had babies with the maidens they didn’t save
invented electric lightbulbs
thought up new holidays.
You can have my body
just like you wanted.
Or you can keep on fighting dragons
re-staging that same old Cretaceous deathmatch
But hey, hush, come on.
You’ll never fix
I have a forgiveness in me
the size of eons
and if a dragon’s body is big enough
it just looks like the world.
Did you know
the earth used to have two moons?
“What the Dragon Said: A Love Story” copyright © Catherynne M. Valente