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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #51 (December 14, 2004), page 13.
Connect the dots
By Reetika Vazirani
Copper Canyon Press, 2002
Paperback, 121 pages, $14.00
By Josephine Bridges
Reading World Hotel for the first time is like dreaming other peopleís dreams. Some of these people are probably your friends and family, some are most likely strangers, but you canít say for certain from whose dreams you have awakened. You feel so much and you understand maybe half of it, including these delicious lines from "English":
And when I said island, it was a mint leaf
on my tongue, an almond slice, a moon
with its thin rays on the windowpane.
"To Imran in Bombay" on the other hand, contains this surreal little letter that seems to write itself before our eyes as we wait in line:
At the post office, a Chinese boy
buys an aerogram. His grandmother takes it,
pastel paper, blue meandering veins,
your wild signature.
It often doesnít seem as important that we understand our dreams as that we pay attention to the feelings they evoke. It didnít bother me that I canít tell if the speaker of "Letter to Jaipur" ("Geography is airmail paper, thatís all, / lint slanting in the sunís column") is also the narrator of "No Complaints" ("I want the phone to stop ringing, / though I am curious who calls"). I donít mind suspecting that the narrator of "My Brother, the Wedding" is the bride, but not being sure:
"I could leave with the groom. A photo,
thatís marriage. Paper bows, silver,
one minute two say I do,
in seconds you see them waving."
The authorís biography doesnít shed a lot of light on the missing details. Here we learn that Reetika Vazirani was born in India in 1962 and that sheís won a number of prizes (including a Barnard New Women Poets Prize for White Elephants, her first book of poetry), awards, and fellowships. There are brief references to her M.F.A. and her current employment. Thatís it.
There are clues, of course, as in any treasure hunt. World Hotel is dedicated to the authorís mother, among others. The book is divided into an introductory poem, "Hollywood and Hydroquinone" ó which ends with the startling imperative, "I am your mother Invent me" ó and two sections, the first of which is called "Inventing Maya." Okay, those dots arenít awfully tough to connect. But what about the second section, "Itís Me, Iím Not Home," also the title of an answering machine greeting weaving its peculiar way through a villanelle?
Reading World Hotel for the second time is like almost remembering exactly the right word and not being able to stop thinking about it. Itís riveting and unforgettable and it makes you squirm just a little. And then you come to the last poem, "Itís a Young Country," and you want to throw your arms around the author or at least leave a message of gratitude and camaraderie on her voice mail:
"We say America you are
magnificent and we mean
we are heartbroken"