Washington, July 18: A prize-winning poet who used verse to describe her experiences as a child and as an Indian immigrant was identified by Washington D.C. police yesterday as the woman who apparently slashed the left wrist of her two-year-old son and her own on Wednesday and died with him in a pool of blood.
Reetika Vazirani, 40, and Jehan Vazirani Komunyakaa were found lying next to each other in the dining room of a house in the Chevy Chase section of Washington, where Vazirani was house-sitting.
Police called the deaths an apparent murder-suicide, but no official ruling has been made. Investigators found a note with references to the boy’s father, a Princeton University professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, said sources familiar with the investigation. He could not be reached and relatives in the area would not comment, said a woman who would not identify herself at a family home in Silver Spring.
Neighbours and friends said there had been signs that Vazirani was distraught. The day before the bodies were found, they said, she sought a meeting with a neighbourhood priest and borrowed a Bible from a neighbour. Vazirani and her son were staying for the summer in a three-storey house in the 3600 block of Quesada Street NW, the Washington home of novelist Howard Norman and poet Jane Shore, friends of Vazirani’s.
Denise King-Miller, a friend, said Vazirani had spoken to her about personal problems involving her relationship with Yusef. Vazirani’s editor described her as a warm, intelligent person whose poems explored the two worlds that immigrants inhabit. Her work was published in poetry journals in addition to her books.
She won the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her second book, World Hotel, and a Barnard New Women Poets Prize for her first, White Elephants, published in 1996. According to friends, Vazirani came to this country from India when she was about six, settling in Silver Spring. Her father, an oral surgeon, was a faculty member and an assistant dean at the Howard University College of Dentistry.
Vazirani has written that she began writing poetry when she was 25 and spent eight years working on her first book.
“She’s truly an international, lyrical poet… an accomplished lyrical storyteller,” said Sam Hamill, whose Copper Canyon Press published Vazirani’s second book. “She wrote about being in both cultures and between both cultures.”
Samples of her poetry describe life in India and in the US and the impact of immigration on her family. In one poem, Memory I, she wrote: “He grew strange, my father, caught between two accents and two worlds.”