The Fan Ritual, or The Crocuses Died

By: Sarah Marshall
Bryn Mawr, Baltimore, Maryland

*NOTE: The following original poem is based on the painted screen “Women on a Bridge Tossing Fans into a River,” over which I have no claim. A link to the image is below for reference. The screen is currently in exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.{b1a2d614-cf7b-42f3-8789-8f3074b9fb2c}&oid=53439

The crocuses died, three at a time, falling with cracking brown and bursts of pastel,

Swallowed up by the hues and hems and haws of the river rolling down the banks

And up the cartwheels, digging worn, rounded toes into the waves,

Gathering the old August, submerging the color, tainting the browns with yellow and silk

And down again, once more, the dreadful plunge.

Women walked along the banks of the Uji river, fans trailing in hand;

The wind shifted their skirts without the feet or certain movement, crocuses dying

Hours ahead and in the distances of silken gold and pink ribbons, shaped in roses,

Trailing behind.

They walked austerely, chins moon-like, raised, crescent and cast away from the sun

Into the darker parts of the water; they walked as if they tread on that darkening surface

Falling away from their feet and bringing death along in cauterized swirls and strider-darts

From the browning crocuses between their toes.

The fans dropped down abruptly, cutting the wind into fragments— they behaved as weapons

As they fell and slowed, curled under themselves in breaths of relief and icy exhales into the Staling fall air, and sank away over the froth of the bridge pillars and waterwheels,

Submerged and sinking into the approaching sunset.

The women watched them go from the bridge, hands to palms and fingers to the brittle edges of

Dragonfly fans, the green newly minted and fogging up the bone-backed translucent cloths

As they beckoned the breeze and plummeted into the rolling orange,

Sank, turned, and continued on toward the churning grain mills and the descending horizon.

Pinks danced on outstretched toes and unused fingernails, ribbons kissed and twisted

Into the golden wisps of atmosphere tugging at the women’s clothes.

The fans netted the wind, caught exhales of excitement as dark blue trouts breaching the water.

All colors muttered and gleamed as they swam down the Uji banks, seeping into the waves,

Scenes of foothill cherry trees and purple courts and cattails rolled into inky patches on the froth.

Every color brushed onto folded, thin canvas, every glance of the day but of this—

The red sun and clouded skies, the darkening water.

They gathered up the old August in scenes of happiness and tossed them down

Into the last hot breaths of the summer sky.