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Sexing the Political: A Journal of Third Wave Feminists on Sexuality

Krista Jacob

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©Krista Jacob, 2004
all rights reserved

Volume Three
Number Two
May 2004

Toronto, March 2004

They taught us
running Suicide Action Montreal
That a caller's
"I want to kill myself"
should always be taken seriously
And followed-up
with the question
"How do you plan on doing it?"
If an answer
full of methodic steps
were to come-up
we were there to rate the call
on the urgent side of the numeric scale
and act accordingly.
The failing I felt
every time
as an anonymous stranger
on the other end of the line:
I wasn't permitted to find and meet the caller
I had to have the call traced
Maintain the anonymous distance
Send a ticket to a mental health ward
instead of unconditional support
to another human being
crying out for help.

Dear Reetika Vazirani,
I never spoke anonymously with you.
You were averse to suicide hotlines
to the ambulances they'd send
and the hospitals they'd send you to.
In any case we weren't in the same cities
Not even the same country, for the most part
as a poet
as a woman
as a reader of the first Press to publish you [1]
as a South Asian in North America
as an anonymous stranger
I know you.
Dear Reetika Vazirani,
This isn't a poem for you
You are long gone
Stabbed to death
along with your son
by a kitchen knife in your hand.
Eight months after your death,
following an inexplicably long Feature [2]
What are we to make of your story?
Dear Reetika Vazirani
This is not an homage to you.
This is a letter to us
To better understand ourselves
To better understand the place that you left.

You picked poetry as your trade
(different from poetry as hobby)
A near-impossible choice
for the daughter of professional Indian immigrants
driven by the pursuits of both
Knowledge and Social Acknowledgment
(your father, an Assistant Dean and oral surgeon concurrently).
A near-impossible choice
because much like the insightful
short films
I went to see the other day
offered by the Art Film House
for absolutely free
Next to nobody wants poetry.
And the supply is so much greater than the demand
And those who acknowledge it are so few and far between
"those who have been forced
to a knowledge that has
severed knowing
into the smallest pieces"
as Susan Griffin puts it,
"fragments flying into
 the far corners of a fractured world." [3]

Dear Reetika Vazirani,
You fell in deep love
with a poet you didn't know for long.
For fragments flying in a fractured world
this makes sense.
As a poet he was in touch
with a touch
you could also touch
This came through
in the dancing rhythm you shared
in the creative child laid bare
by the fruit of your love
which rotted.
Dear Reetika Vazirani
All this makes perfect sense
to the far corners of fractured worlds
My deepest fall
in love
was with the mystery of a face
which had never locked eyes with another-
A poet
I knew briefly
but overlapped with intensely
and then had to leave
for our joint safety.

Dear Reetika Vazirani,
Your lover was a black male poet
of no uncertain acclaim.
Of course, such acclaim
was more possible for him:
Male in a Black and White Nation
whose poetic vision
would be that much more accessible
because his male and black history
is that much more familiar
than female and red
or female and brown
or female and blue.
But when your poet-lover's acclaim
transferred some concrete recognition
to you
It all became too real,
the reality of your place:
a lesser-known poet
(published, yes. award-winning, yes)
who bore the child of a better-known poet
and through this gained
the long-sought
of a financially significant 'poetry-job'
(with the potential of becoming permanent)
A Lesser-Known Female Poet
gaining some significant social space
which was not significant enough
because it wasn't all that significant
as the carry-on of Black Male Acclaim.

And you had so very much to give,
Dear Reetika Vazirani.
and other things appropriate.
Agile as you were
you could easily fit-in
but always as a white elephant
roaming world hotels
And so, it was not easy
to know you fully.
Your colleagues and friends
saw your joy and flair of giving
and believed this to be happiness.
What you didn't have
was the sufficient presence of others
within which to give all you had to give.
It wasn't sensed,
all that you had to offer
And so, much remained un-taken
And in this way we didn't accept you
Dear Reetika Vazirani
And that is where you were alone.
And that is where we didn't look beneath
the surfaces
we didn't look close enough
And so we didn't do enough
And that is where we can always do better.

Dear Reetika Vazirani,
You took your toddler son with you.
An affront to National Family Values
In a nation where suicide
takes more deaths than homicide
And some 1000 traced cases
of mothers killing their children
in the past US 10 years
show mothers usually killing themselves as well.
"purposeful filicide"
There is purpose there
Where women don't want to abandon their children
don't want their children to grow-up without Mum
And for you, Reetika Vazirani
first alone in your isolation,
then alone in your isolation x2
It followed for you and your son
to go together.
Alone together
Dead together.

And then there were
the anti-depressants and therapists
that your loved ones knew of
Dear Reetika Vazirani.
Some internal imbalance
chemical or otherwise
rendered or genetic
(there was also your father's suicide)
Or all of the above
Who knows?
Maybe the final trials you endured:
Love  Motherhood  Success
pushed you past the threshold
Suicide and Filicide flowing
from an Internal Imbalance gone-out-of-whack.

Dear Reetika Vazirani,
There were chronic callers
at Suicide Action Montreal.
Mostly sufferers of internal imbalances
with no one else to reach for.
They called often
contemplated suicide often
and attempted suicide more than once.
Sometimes with success
These chronic cases
we were told
were calls not to waste long with
Because time is short
and hotline volunteers are few
and the suicides are many
and there is no way to know for sure
when a chronic caller
is about to self-kill
and there was a lack of statistics on this
And for all these reasons these cases
were worth less
in the non-profit business
of suicide hotlines


But you made chronic calls for help
to friendsDear Reetika Vazirani:
-the 12 page list of detailed instructions
to be followed after your death
(left among a friend's files)
-the emergency need to flee an unsafe place
in your lover's house
(group-emailed to friends)
-several statements to friends about feeling
-"Sometimes I think it would be easier
to do what my father did and just go to sleep"
to a friend on the phone
-the July 16, 7:15am call to a friend
Announcing your decision to hurt yourself and your son
who told you to call a suicide hotline [4] -
Dear Reetika Vazirani
In a society of people
keeping distances
from all but those
immediately involved in their lives
An entire Suicide Action Industry
(even publicly-funded therapy)
can do little
to unbind
our alienation from each other
(even in Canada we have plenty of suicides).
Dear Reetika Vazirani
I commit
to not keeping
or safe distances.

Dear Reetika Vazirani,
It's late in the city
and your are asleep. [5]
This isn't a message for you
Just a stranger's attempt to enter
-without romance-
a familiar map of homelessness
To pick-up the receiver
And try to make something
of the key you left.

[1] Copper Canyon Press - a 31 year old, non-profit, unique publisher of poetry - published Reetika Vazirani's second collection of poems, World Hotel, in 2002. (See www.coppercanyonpress.org) Her first collection, White Elephants, was awarded the Barnard New Women Poets Prize in 1996 and was published as part of the award. 

[2] See "The Failing Light", by Paula Span, Washington Post Magazine, February 15, 2004.

[3] From Susan Griffin's poem, "To the Far Corners of Fractured Worlds", in her Collected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 1997.

[4] Reetika Vazirani and her son, Jehan Vazirani Komunyakaa, were found dead in the afternoon of July 16, 2003.

[5] This stanza echoes Reetika Vazirani's poem "It's Me, I'm Not Home", from World Hotel

Salimah Valiani is a Canadian poet, activist and researcher. She has lived in Canada, England and the USA, and has traveled to various parts of Asia as part of her work in international development policy advocacy. Through all of this, she has participated in feminist projects, international solidarity building, and intellectual discussion. She believes in the power of poetry to address some of humanity's deepest aching.



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