‘Mulan After the Return’ gives readers a glimpse of the warrior maiden as she ages alone through the eyes of a child. In the ancient tale of Hua Mulan, she spends twelve years cross-dressed pretending to be her father’s son. Mulan was trans: at least a transvestite, if not transgendered. Though Chinese and not Celtic in origin, the poem is threaded with the energies of the maiden and the crone, the imagery of winter and spring.
Mulan After the Return
There is an old widow who lives at the edge of the village.
She sweeps her small yard with a bamboo handled broom
And raps the thatched eaves at gossiping crows
Who alight as soon as she hobbles into her hut.
The creaking of her loom
Tells them the laundry line is safe again.
It is a game. She leaves seeds out for them
When her clothes have dried.
Some say she is a witch.
She consorts with the black birds of bad omen.
Some say she’s merely a poor old woman.
There are no men in her house.
There is only a child, who sits crosslegged on her bed.
That would be me, breaking yet another taboo.
I am not hers. Her children have grown wings
And fled the nest, I guess. She has not told me how many
There was a young woman who lived here
With her father, her mother, two sisters and a baby brother.
She wove red cloth for newlyweds, new parents,
The center beam of the theater when it was first built.
The village was bigger back then,
Before the war. Before the emperor drafted her father
The year her brother Ping was three.
Knowing her parents would not agree,
She sold the tapestry that would have been her dowry
And bought herself an iron lance.
Unpinning her namesake from her hair,
she stole her brother’s name,
Crushing her own with its flatness.
Wood-orchid Magnolia became Even.
She discovered a gift for killing people
Though beneath the frost-covered armor
Her heart dreamt of the loom.
The emperor made her a general.
He offered her a position at court
But she asked for a horse instead.
She rode home, no longer a young woman, yet unmarried.
For years she would wake in the dead of night
To the scent of bodies rotting in spring wind
And turn to her loom.
is a queer polyamorous Chinese American woman, born and bred in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she is not sticking acupuncture needles in people or concocting herbal remedies for a living, she enjoys writing, gardening, food, dance, travel, poetry, pain and intimacy.