An excerpt from The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston; read aloud at our Mythical Writing Workshop on Dragons:
After I returned from my survival test, the two old people trained me in dragon ways, which took another eight years. Copying the tigers, their stalking kill and their anger, had been a wild, bloodthirsty joy. Tigers are easy to find, but I needed adult wisdom to know dragons. “You have to infer the whole dragon from the parts you can see and touch,” the old people would say. Unlike tigers, dragons are so immense, I would never see one in its entirety. But I could explore the mountains, which are the top of its head. “These mountains are also like the tops of other dragons’ heads,” the old people would tell me. When climbing the slopes, I could understand that I was a bug riding on a dragon’s forehead as it roams through space, its speed so different from my speed that I feel the dragon solid and immobile. In quarries I could see its strata, the dragon’s veins and muscles; the minerals, its teeth and bones. I could touch the stones the old woman wore – its bone marrow. I had worked the soil, which is its flesh, and harvested the plants and climbed the trees, which are its hairs. I could listen to its voice in the thunder and feel its breathing in the winds, see its breathing in the clouds. Its tongue is the lightning. And the red that the lightning gives to the world is strong and lucky – in blood, poppies, roses, rubies, the red feathers of birds, the red carp, the cherry tree, the peony, the line alongside the turtle’s eyes and the mallard’s. In the spring when the dragon awakes, I watched its turnings in the rivers.
The closest I came to seeing a dragon whole was when the old people cut away a small strip of bark on a pine that was over three thousand years old. The resin underneath flows in the swirling shapes of dragons. “if you should decide during your old age that you would like to live another five hundred years, come here and drink ten pounds of this sap,” they told me. “But don’t do it now. You’re too young to decide to live forever.” The old people sent me out into thunderstorms to pick the red-cloud herb, which grows only then, a product of dragon’s fire and dragon’s rain. I brought the leaves to the old man and old woman, and they ate them for immortality.
I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes. Pearls are bone marrow; pearls come from oysters. The dragon lives in the sky, ocean, marshes, and mountains; and the mountains are also its cranium. Its voice thunders and jingles like copper pans. It breathes fire and water; and sometimes the dragon is one, sometimes many.