February 18, 2004
I Would Not Sing You to Sleep
Heartbreaking Washington Post Magazine story about a South Asian-American poet who killed her 2-year-old son and herself.
AND: OK, I won’t just leave it at that. Why is it heartbreaking?
It’s steeped in her poetry. Paula Span, the author, pulls in these opaque fragments of poems, and they’re excellent. Early on, Span cites this devastating piece by the woman, called “Lullaby”:
I would not sing you to sleep.
I would press my lips to your ear
and hope the terror in my heart stirs you.
And you can’t help but see her writing that poem to her murdered son.
You can’t read a good poem by a dead author without missing what’s been lost, wondering what they were thinking, and lamenting that you can’t know. It’s just the same reading this. As with any article about a suicide, this one spends the whole time probing the question of why she did it, while always being upfront about the fact that we can never know. Reetika Varzani was foreign-born, and wrote between these two worlds — India and America. America, where her own father disappeared one day, and she later found he’d taken his own life.
But that’s just one seemingly significant piece in this huge puzzle portrait of a mind that you can almost feel beneath the text, as her words weave in and out. It’s not at all like reading “The Bell Jar,” I promise.