On an Ohioan Autumn, Remembering Reetika

BY DIPIKA MUKHERJEE
(In Memory of Reetika Vazirani, 1962–2003)

Dipika discovered Reetika Vazirani’s poetry during a writing residency in 2002, when a copy of Vazirani’s collection World Hotel had been placed in her room. Dipika notes that Vazirani’s poetry is frequently about the anomie of a migrant:

   Culture shock is not your reflex upon leaving the dock; 
   it is when . . . someone asks your name 
   and the name of your religion and your first thought is 
   “I don’t know,” or you can’t remember what you said last time; 
   you think there is something you forgot to sign . . . 
   and you are positive 
   that those green-shirted workmen in the room right now 
   want to take you in for questioning.

                                                  — Reetika Vazirani, from White Elephants [5]

Dipika and her family moved from Singapore to Lima, Ohio, in 2003—just two years after 9/11. In the process, her 11-year-old son was detained for four hours at Chicago O‘Hare Airport. That same year, Vazirani killed her infant son and herself. Out of shock and grief and Dipika’s own sense of anomie came this poem.

Standing at the serrated edge
of a Goghian field,
the stalks, like jagged fingers,
stabbing obscenely at the sky,
I think of another woman.
A poet,
a mother,
she killed her child and then herself.

There is the dull gold of decay,
corn husks and dying light of day
and one lone blackbird.

I, who have traveled
from a place of excess fecundity,
a land so pregnant
that the undergrowth teems,
I stand in this aridity,
a dark desiccation,
a Foreigner.


This poem was previously published in The Palimpsest of Exile in 2009.

Rubicon Press published Dipika Mukherjee’s poetry chapbook, The Palimpsest of Exile, in 2009. Her poems have appeared in publications around the world, including World Literature Today, Asia Literary Review, and United Verses. She has performed at the International Stage at Het Huis van Poesie in Rotterdam, been the featured poet at the Hideout in Austin, Texas, and read at the Shanghai International Literary Festival, the Sugar Factory in Amsterdam, and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Reach her at dipikamukherjee.com.

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3 comments

  1. Dipika, we are both in Ohio! How wonderful to encounter you here with this lovely tribute to Vazirani, surely one of the saddest, hardest of things to write about. And yet we must.

    Reply
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