Reetika Vazirani (B.A., Wellesley College) is Henry Hoyns Fellow at the University of Virginia. She has received a Barnard New Women Poets' Prize for White Elephants. Her recent poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Manoa, Prairie Schooner, and Massachusetts Review.
The Rajah Looks at the Rani in Middle Age
It used to be we'd meet on a ghat
or at a simple tea given by our Ayahs.
Wading in the river, I'd laugh with her.
Eight together, we wore hand-me-downs,
and our toes would dig into silt.
Even at twelve, I'd press clay
in her hand; willingly, she'd bare
her wrist and brown arm—.
Now these banquet halls, and miles
of tents prepared for weddings,
every camel in the state, and the lines
of friends. Now these veils,
and buckets of ornaments,
her maddening make-your-skin-lighter routines.
Who's even there under that hint of her crown?
I see cloth spun of gold and flashy rings.
Lalita, the Palace Singer
The queen and king pay me to sing the songs
of sorrow and heartache that have cluttered their world.
They say I'm sweet,
so young, but I know the tunes of regret.
True, I'm young—which men call me their lover?
So how can my songs reflect a kings's weary stare?
All my life I've been learning the technique,
working for this chance to sing in court.
They think I'm wise, but what is wisdom
all day in rehearsal while everyone's going out
(Radhika, Mani, they're flirting with their men).
But when Ram Kapoor asks me to join him what do I say?
I say, Ram, I am singer to the king!
When he walks away there goes my glamour.
All day I'm wishing to stop these tunes.
I'd give up the stage, but the king's crowds clamor
for me and toss me long garlands for a long career.
The Merchant Bhavadas & Sheema's Sister
Bhavadas said, I saw your sister wearing a dancer's dress
and the jewels and mehndi of a bride
I said, it can't be, she's the daughter of a minister,
wife of a topmost minister's aide.
I took my bags and hurried home. Aruna's wearing
a showy ghagra, but what's her reason?
Her husband, though he's drunk on wine, has his father's
access to the king, so what can be done?
The drinker is never at home, and the street has pitted
his heart like a wagon wheel.
No wonder she's flipping. He can't give her a little
time, and now she's bound to lose it all.
Who can keep this dirt from our father? Once she is found,
he'll strip her of her name
and guard his position; he will drive her from Jalna
to shield us from her shame.
Now I'll speak to her. The tongues in this city
are ants to the sticky cake of honor,
and this merchant is known to sell his word for the sake
of seeing exile end his rumor.