Where can we look to find joy amidst the chaos of our present moment? The Writers in Residence at-home video series from the PEN America World Voices Festival gives readers a glimpse into leading writers’ interior lives and hidden talents beyond their writing desks. Whether cooking meals, crafting cocktails, strumming instruments, entertaining kids, or performing poetry in their living rooms, our writers-in-residence remind us of the little comforts of staying at home in a time of unprecedented dislocation.

Oksana VasyakinaIn this special episode, poet Oksana Vasyakina invites us into her study, where she shares her latest piece, “These people didn’t know my father.” She dedicates the piece to the shuttered bookshop in the center of Moscow, where she worked, and to poetry itself.

Check out her video now, and order her newest book, Ветер ярости (Wind of Fury), online.

Oksana Vasyakina’s Poem

“These people didn’t know my father.”

I’m walking down Tverskaya from the metro to the Electrotheater
today we aren’t working today there’s a reception in the Electrotheater lobby
the people putting it on are the car dealers the expensive-watch dealers the art dealers and theater equipment dealers

they’ve asked that the bookstore be cleared away during the event
they say it’s no place to sell books
I’m walking down Tverskaya and thinking selling books for them is like hawking sunflower seeds on the sidewalk
or dolls out of a box

one of them just out and said it
can you imagine it? I’ll have my watches for a million dollars up here and right next to them you have your fucking stationery
and I answered that you know I could give a shit how much your watches cost
these are my books and they’re worth more to me than your million

later on the managers smoothed things over and everyone forgot about it very quickly
only after that conversation I cried for a long time

when I’m walking down Tverskaya from the metro to the Electrotheater
I’m thinking about death
today I’m going there to clear out the books before an exhibition opening
so the people journalists and artists won’t see the seamy side
so they’ll see only the crystal-clear facing seams carefully worked over by the curators and service staff
when the bookstore is closed
it looks like a flophouse
dog-eared cardboard boxes with books
the black blind lowered
magazines covered with cloth

they don’t want to see that

today they even asked me to scrape the stickers off the table
that Sasha had stuck on
it’s a sticker she designed
it has a woman holding a skull
a punk Hamletess I think when I look at this sticker and think it’s Sasha’s contribution to the destruction of the sterile bourgeois world of the Electrotheater

I didn’t scrape off the sticker
I rubbed it with my fingernail
it’s stuck on good
I wonder
when I get to the theater if it’ll still be there

I’m walking down Tverskaya to the Electrotheater and thinking about death

those million-dollar watches had playful monkey designs in gems and gold
I didn’t see the watches in person but I saw the posters with pictures of them
I often think of those monkeys they danced so jauntily across the dial
there’s your vanitas for 2016

today I was walking down Tverskaya thinking about Lida Yusupova about her naive courage
and about that poem of hers where she’s talking to her dead son
I took her book ritual C-4 with me because I wanted to reread the text about saxifrages
I thought it might help me write my text about Euridice but I came across the text called The Finch

I’m walking along and thinking about death

about how when mama dies things will become so senselessly light for me and I’ll start crying

I imagine her sleeping and not knowing about the diamond monkeys
about how she strokes her head bald from the chemo with beautifully manicured nails
how she adjusts her crumpled homemade breast prosthesis
and still by force of habit lies there like Venus watching TV
wrinkles her nose at the smell of cilantro and basil

she asked if I wanted to touch the place where her titty used to be that’s what she called it titty
but I wouldn’t
I refused
I can imagine the news of her death and this seems easier to me
than remembering her body aged beyond its years stained brown from cigarettes vodka and illness
it’s even harder to touch her
to say after her that word – titty

I’m walking to the Electrotheater and thinking that you have to have courage
and in some people’s eyes a profiteering instinct and lack of scruple to write texts about your dead parents about your dead children
about all those who were not heroes did not die in car crashes did not fall on the battlefield whose lives were not taken by history their life did not stop with
a sterile clean heart attack or cerebral hemorrhage they just died of tuberculosis AIDS cancer
schizophrenia they rotted and decomposed from within they stank they lost recognizable human form

to write texts that will have no trembling
to write texts that will become poetry

someone once told me
that a poem is a pure thing that doesn’t have a single unnecessary word

no I think

a poem

is a place you lick out that’s what a poem is

it’s a licked-out sore on a dog’s flank

sour from lymph and seeping blood and rust-colored with wet fur around the edges that’s what a poem is

About Oksana Vasyakina

Oksana Vasyakina is a poet, feminist activist, artist, and curator. She was born in 1989 in Ust-Ilimsk (Irkutsk Oblast, Russia) and graduated from The Maxim Gorky Literature Institute and School of Performance (PYRFYR). Her debut book Women’s Prose was shortlisted for The Andrei Bely Prize in 2016. Some texts from the presented selection were included in The Arcady Dragomoshchenko Prize shortlist in 2016. She has been the recipient of The Moskovskij Schet Prize and Liceum Prize. Her poems have been translated into Italian, English, and Estonian. She lives in Moscow.