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.

Dream of the Evil Servant

Reetika Vazirani, 1962 - 2003

New Delhi, 1967

                1.
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 against mine,
hard deliberate knuckles. I gave her cash.
Off to watch movies, off to smoke ganja.


                2.
She came back late and high as if my fear asked for it.
I called her junglee.
Everything went off late -- 
dinner, the children getting into bed;
but the guests understood: 
they had servants too.


She stuck diaper pins in my children.
I cursed her openly.  Who shouted?
Or I cursed her silently and went my way.
She stole bangles my husband's mother bought,
bangles a hundred years old.  But she wore frayed jewelry
hawked on the street.  She was like a rock that nicked
furniture in corners you'd think only a rat could go.


                3.
Why didn't I dismiss her?
I don't know.  
She got old as I got old.
I could see her sharp shoulder bones
tighten, her knuckled skull. 
I had to look at her.  It had to wound me.
Listen, said my mother. Yes mother, I listened, crouched in my head.


Looking over the flowered verandah she said:
Who are you to think you are beautiful?
What have you got to show?  
Go sit on your rag.
All my life I tended to looks,
they betrayed me. I bore you. 
I am wretched.  Be my mother.  Be my maid.

This poem first appeared in The Kenyon Review, Spring 1999. © 1999 by Reetika Vazirani. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

This poem first appeared in The Kenyon Review, Spring 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

poem

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.
poem
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
poem

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