Beyond This Courtyard There Be Dragons

by D.S. Grauel

Gloves, nitrile with the scent of industry,

Mask, moist with fetid breath,

the two—a double-edged salvation–

are not with me at this tender moment.

One in the trash.

The other, laundry room sink.

My face is nude.


I open the door with

Barbaresco Nebbiolo in hand,

a cellar selection gifted from a friend

in Porta Venezia, Milano. Ex-patriot,

locked down in the quartiere. Soldiers outside.

I swore to save it for my birthday.

But it is debatable if birthdays will come.


I step outside into the courtyard

for the elixir of life: air.

No cars. No aircraft. No freight train

reverberating under my feet.

Early afternoon and there’s the moon,

crooked and waning,

bright with no light of its own

because it is a thief of the worst kind,

stealing the sun’s reflection

in order to glow.


The courtyard is flanked with river rock …

xeriscape laid down with Mexican sweat.

Dwarf gardenia with petite flowers,

lavender, pampas grass, an ocotillo.

Off go my slippers,

toes cracked and slightly bloated.

I sit on my bench and let a stump

molest my feet, the remains of a date palm

cut down before

the novel virus arrived.


I am present without intention.

Nothing planned forever.

My universe, luscious with floral orgasm and luck

because Cousin Zadie, two years younger,

was laid down in a Mississippi grave

last week.

Funeral on Facebook.

Elegy on the evening news,

but I am still here

with flirtations of morbidity

beyond the edge as the action begins.


Placido Domingo sings,

“La donna è mobile …

Muta d’accento …”

through an open window, and I sing along,

remembering for the first time in years

when the music teacher of my childhood

shared that song with me in the ghetto,

when life was poor and dangerous

and lessons were cheaper than crack,

seven dollars a week

if you had it.


Through an open door someone yells,

“Get the mail!”

The courtyard trembles, tectonic shift,

a dragon with one arm–

the other taken in Desert Storm–

slivers out of the house across the street,

slamming the screen door with its tail.

Then, another dragon comes,

scraggly and huffing smoke,

riding a fat-tire bike in my direction.

I wave and invite it not to come over.

“Social distancing,” I say.

“Remember, six feet apart.”

He blows me a kiss, keeps going.


Another one comes with her pampered pet.

Scaly mongrel pocket-sized.

I spy to see if it relieves itself on my lawn.

No leash. I’ll have to call the HOA.

Its name is Chloe and it doesn’t like me.

Felonious beast!

“Hey!” its mistress shouts.

“Hey!” I shout back.

“How ya holdin’ up?”

“Day-by-day,” showing her my Barbaresco.


Next, a dragon wearing headsets jogs past,

wings curled upward,

gust catching me off guard.

Hair blowing like Medusa, no mask!

“Where’s your mask?” I yell.

“Where’s yours?” she yells back.

“I’m on my property. Sheltered.”

“Good for you,” she snaps!

And flips me off.


Then a mammoth wind.

Rounding the corner as wide as the street,

serpentine back reaching up to the sky,

a gray-bearded dragon ancient in years.

Each breath, deliberated.

Each step, precise.

He blocks the moon as he ambles through.

I put my glass down and stand,

nodding with respect.

I’ve often wondered where dragons go to die.


Dusk is near, the wine’s gone.

Not one dragon has passed in an hour.

I ruminate over Zadie, hope she made it to heaven.

As for me, tomorrow it will rain.

I’ll still come out.

I’ll put up my patio umbrella and read

poetry from the Harlem Renaissance.

I’ll count the running hilltops

at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

I’ll start with ones with snow

and end with the peaks of lush,

emerald pines.


But I shall remain in my courtyard,

and no dragon shall cross its boundary

until there is mercy and grace.

And at last, for my absolution,

that you and God understand that I am

indeed neighborly. But that

Chloe—felonious beast—

tried to breathe fire

on me.

D. S. Grauel is a world-traveler and consummate explorer of deserts and oceans. She is returning to writing after a hiatus of what she calls ‘momwifedom.’ She is a Wellesley College graduate currently studying under Coachella Valley writer, Ruth Nolan. She has several works in the process including a novel and collection of poems.

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