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About this poet

Recipient of a 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her second book, World Hotel (Copper Canyon, 2002), and a Barnard New Women Poets Prize for White Elephants (1996), Reetika Vazirani was educated at Wellesley College and received her MFA from the University of Virginia where she was a Hoyns Fellow.

She was a recipient of a "Discovery"/The Nation Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Poets & Writers Exchange Program Award, and the Glenna Luschei/Prairie Schooner Award for her essay, "The Art of Breathing," which appears in the anthology How We Live our Yoga (Beacon, 2001). She was a Contributing and Advisory Editor for Shenandoah and was the guest poetry editor of two issues. She was a Book Review Editor for Callaloo and a Senior Poetry Editor of Catamaran, a journal featuring work by artists from South Asia.

Born in India on August 9, 1962 and raised in Maryland, she had served as writer-in-residence at The College of William and Mary and part of the core faculty of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops. Reetika Vazirani died on July 16, 2003.

The Lover

Reetika Vazirani, 1962 - 2003

New Delhi, 1965

I took the train from Patiala,
left the girls with Ayah, and lied,
I'm with Faye and Daisy.
       Had to say what he'd approve of.
Go then, Kiran said, crushing large rupees in my hand.

Have I been here a week?
I've slept so long I can't remember
who was with me last night in bed,
that figure leaning against the door?
Did he leave me this gold bangle?
I can feel its heft around my wrist,
knobs and crests, a design
from the high Mogul period of Aurangazeb.

I have come to Delhi
to remember our ancient past -- so little, a bangle,
       what else?
When it slid over my hand,
I opened myself like a book and you hear its private pulsing.
In the quiet he said, Put your hand here
       to save your place.
I put my hand there, and he pressed it.
He sat with me a minute, and he went away,
left something to hinge me in the wind of myself,
to calm my legs.
Empire is large land and I can't touch it.
A smile is a root my mother said don't bother.
I am small.  I married a dark talent
from a small world.
Until he asked me to drop my shawl
and slid his finger on my shoulder,
let me taste our leisure.
I read him.  I peeled back lies.
I had harped on grandeur,
but the Taj Mahal and Rome are a fantasy.
What's left is my darkness. He spoke to me
of skin and I touched it.

Until he asked me to drop my shawl
and slid his finger on my shoulder,
let me taste our leisure.
It required my defiance of the small world.
He asked would you, and I said I would.
I read him.  I drank up my history and peeled back the glossy lies.
I had harped on former grandeur,
but the Taj Mahal and Rome are a fantasy.
What's left is my darkness. He spoke to me simply of skin and I touched it.

For so many years I kept my mantra:
they are great and I am small.
I've slept.  I've tasted my own milk.
I'll raise my girls, then I'll be back to taste the morning.

This poem first appeared in Callaloo, Fall 1999. © 1999 by Reetika Vazirani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Reetika Vazirani

Reetika Vazirani

Born in India in 1962 and raised in Maryland, poet Reetika Vazirani received the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her book, World Hotel

by this poet


New Delhi, 1967

We kept war in the kitchen.
A set of ten bone china plates, now eight.
As if a perfumed guest stole her riches . . .

The next day she wanted to leave at noon.
I said, be back by four, I'm paying you.
She sat by the door,   
she put out her hand,  
her knuckles knocked

Mussoorie, Uttar Pradesh, India, l947

When I am nine, the British quit
India.  Headmaster says, "The Great
Mutiny started it."  We repeat,
The Great Mutiny of 1857
in our booming voices.  Even
Akbar was Great, even Catherine,
Great!  We titter over History.  His back
turns: we see his pink spotty neck.
To replay errors
the revolving door of days
Now it's over
There's no one point thank god in the turning world 
I was always moving
tired too but laughing
To be a widow is an old
freedom I have known
vidua paradisea    a bird
Singly I flew
and happiness was my giraffe 
in the face of Africa
me among