Branching Paths

Table of Contents


Poetry by Sarah White

Tea with a Geisha by Erin Molin

Poetry by Mandi Mladenoff


"A tree may look as beautiful as ever; but when you notice the insects infesting it, and the tips of the branches that are brown from disease, even the trunk seems to lose some of its magnificence."


She sits down at the small makeup stand. The mirror in front of her shows a familiar person. Herself. She looks down at the various jars and brushes on the stand, picking one up. The brush in her hand moves across her face, obscuring her features in a way they call "beautiful". She sets the brush down. The face in the mirror is no longer her own. It is a mask, hiding a true face most will never see.

In the novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Sayuri is a young girl in training to become a kind of entertainer known as a geisha. A common stereotype many people have of geishas is that they are prostitutes, when they are far from it. Geishas study music, dance, art, communication, and tradition for many years. They often begin training at a young age, becoming apprentices -called maiko- and shadow a geisha they call their “older sister”. They attend parties to perform traditional songs and dances, hold conversations with, and be hostesses for upper class men who pay for their company. This differs from the life and work of a prostitute. Sex is an industry in Japan - and it continues to grow yearly - but geisha are not a part of this industry. Some prostitutes are forced into making money by selling their bodies. Many prostitutes in Japan either commit suicide or die from STDs. Prostitutes in Japan come from many different social classes. Some women escaped their controlled lives in the higher class, believing the life of a prostitute is better than the life in a loveless marriage. At the same time, peasant families sold their daughters to the brothels for money. This is unlike the social class of a geisha who are very well respected individuals in society. Though this is true and the public sees the geisha as very composed, well put-together women; behind closed doors of an okiya, they are often mistreated - putting on a mask for the rest of society.

Arthur Golden created a novel with the purpose of arousing emotional responses from the reader. It tells an overwhelming story of how a young girl had to completely change her life from living in a low class world to learning the ways of becoming a successful geisha. Through art, poetry, and a narrative, the unknown life of a geisha can be revealed.

"But now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper."

Poetry by Sarah White

Chosen Path

Came from a home with no money to pay

I came from a place of the lowest class

I stumble and fall every single day

No food for days, I was as thin as grass.


It was my time to run and get away

I needed to leave to make a living

With nowhere to go, I started to pray

I knew the right job was unforgiving


I am now living on a cold, hard ground

Being treated and used like a rag doll

Getting thrown and tossed around and around

Screams for help but no one can hear my call


I chose a path that my mother would shame

I am abused and sold in a cruel game.

Happy Place

All she sees is her child

Sweet and yet wild

His dark brown eyes shine

His hair knotted like twine


She can’t remember his last meal

Not even a bite of an old orange peel

She had thought of no other way

She needed money, it must be today


In the end, she sold herself

To a man her treated her like an object on a shelf

She knew that is was wrong

But she was forced to play along


She thought back to a good day

To help the pain go away

She thought of her son

The day he learned to run


She imagined herself running

To a place somewhere stunning

The light, cool breeze

Blowing around the flowers and trees


This place of peace and wonder

With no sadness or thunder

A place they can be free

No worries of money


In the blink of eye

It was time to say goodbye

Her thoughts had let her forget

The man she had just met


He used her and was done

To him it was fun

She got her money

Enough for some bread to go with the honey


She knew this wasn’t it

Her family still remained in a pit

She will have to continue to payed by random men

She will have to imagine her happy place again and again

On Top of the World

The time has come

Men are awaiting my arrival

The sun is beginning to set


My kimono lies upon my mats

Beautiful gray silk

Small pink flowers sewn down the side

With bright yellow accents to draw one’s attention


How can a piece of fabric be so beautiful?

How can a piece of fabric a woman feel so important?


My hair and makeup are finished

The last final touches

I look in the mirror and gaze at my reflection

Only to find a masterpiece; a work of art


I glide down the street

My head held high

I felt on top of world, I could walk on water

I felt the eyes of other woman scanning up and down

A life as a geisha can get you much attention

Not just from men

But from women who are stunned by our beautiful complections

The House on the Hill

I came from a tiny, old house

A shoebox in size

The cold dirt floor numbed my toes

A whole family fit in this home

The house on the top of the hill


The day I left

The day I was taken to a new world,

I watched that small house on the hill slowly fade away

Getting farther and farther into the distance

Turning to a speck


I would never live in a shoebox again

I would never live wondering when my next meal would be

I would never live with ratty old clothes,

Dirt that has turned the once crisp white to a dull sad brown


I would live in a home with maids

I would live in a home with a large garden in the back

I would live a life of elegance and grace

I would live with other girls all wanting the same thing

I would live the life of a geisha


My life will change completely

With schooling about performing a tea ceremony

Learning about makeup and how to put on an obi

I will entertain upperclass men with a song and a dance


I will work until I one day become geisha

I will live in a place where I will be respected,

Looked up to and admired

In a city with wealth walking down the streets


I will never feel the walls closing in

I will never worry about ways of income

How long will I be hungry? How long until the cold goes away?

I will never feel cold dirt between my toes quite like I did before

I will never see my house on the hill again.

"Adversity is like a strong wind. I don't mean just that it holds us back for places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that can not be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be."

Tea With A Geisha

The artwork, entitled "Tea With A Geisha", showcases the true job of a geisha.

To begin is the base, the teapot itself. The teapot represents one part of a geisha's job, being a hostess. They serve and entertain their patrons, making sure they have a good time at the parties they attend. One part of many important parties and social events is the tea ceremony. Tea ceremony is an important tradition that is taught as part of a young apprentice geisha's training. This honored tradition can last for hours at a time, showing just how much care and thought is put into performing a proper tea ceremony.

Painted on the teapot is a stream. This stream flows in a circle around the teapot, just as the world keeps spinning no matter what is going on. During the war, the geisha kept doing their job as it gave hope to others that life would not stop for anything. Some of the army and navy officers told Sayuri that visiting the geisha in Gion kept their spirits up in a dark time.

Above the stream there is a koi fish. This fish relates to a metaphor found in the novel. The geisha are very high class individuals that are well respected in society. One could say the geisha districts are "like a pond high up on a mountaintop, fed by streams of rich springwater" (Golden, 333) and the geisha themselves are the fish, swimming in the stream. They are elevated from the rest of society by the job they do, which is to entertain the rich, powerful men of the upper class.

At the lowest point of the stream, there is a cherry tree. Many consider cherry trees to be beautiful, which is what the geisha strive to be. They wear exquisite kimonos made with the finest materials, some costing a fortune. They wear elaborate hairstyles and spend long periods of time perfecting their makeup to prepare for their day. They are trained to be poised and graceful and the epitome of elegance.

The job of a geisha is not an easy one. They must uphold an image that, if damaged, can end their entire career. The world of a geisha is truly a stoically traditional and regimented one, though the public only ever sees the face they create for their persona.

"We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course."

Poetry by Mandi Mladenoff

The beginning

They get smaller, my family

Drifting away with all of my childhood

There’s a puddle at my feet

But my eyes are dry


My mind races

Where am I going

What do they want

Yet my thoughts are invisible


The value of my life

Is enough to afford

But they never thought of the value of my emotions

That, they ignored


Thrown into a world

That’s unfamiliar to me

I’ve been sold


5 years later

The woman I’ve become

Is so far from what I hoped

My heart aches

I have everything, and nothing


I recognize the person across from me

But I’ve never seen her before

Eyes of faith, love, innocence

Turned to pain, betrayal, and loneliness


I’ve had so many lovers

But none of them loved me

None of them knew me

None of them saw me


I long for permanence

For the day that I can finally live

My freedom was “borrowed”

Never to be returned

20 years later

I’m growing weak

Both from age, and suffering

My body is battered, bruised

With no way of healing


I’ve accepted it

That this is my life

My world was destroyed when I was sixteen

I’m forty-one, my time has run out


Growing up

I thought I had value

That I mattered

That I was human


I’m an object

Thrown around like a toy

I thought things could get better

I’ve given up


My faith and hope grow faint

Fading away with every inch of my spirit

I am small against the world

I give up

"If you aren't the woman I think you are, then this isn't the world I thought it was."


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