Before dressing in layers of cotton, a dozen women stand or sit around in undies. Some dispense with a bra in favor of a white T-shirt. The air fills with chatting: a prickly why-are-you-tying-your-obi-that-way or cranky I-hope-you-made-an-effort-there’s-no-toilet. The older women agree in Japanese—soh nee. The air smells like hairspray and hair wax. Anyone older than twelve applies her own makeup and assists others. Everyone adores everyone in that moment before filing out to dance on steamy concrete that is Bryant Park in July. More than any other day, my daughters recall their grandmother. At the Bon Festival, while the priest intones, Let the cities be happy, Let the birds be happy—I shiver, recall asking my mother for a bra and, having to do so, felt I was wrong.

Kimiko Hahn’s most recent collection of poetry is Foreign Bodies (W.W. Norton, 2020). She is working on a memoir titled Bee Lines and she teaches in the MFA Program for Creative Writing & Literary Translation at Queens College, CUNY.

Photo by Amy Selwyn