A poem by Lida Yusupova with photos by Oksana Vasyakina,
translated from the Russian by Hilah Kohen

[i really wanted to meet lesbians and feminists]

i really wanted to meet lesbians and feminists

so i called an organization by the name of the center for gender problems

could i come to your library

my heart was beating so hard

i didn’t need their books

i just wanted to meet lesbians and feminists

i wanted to be useful for feminism

and also

i realized i was a lesbian

but i did not know a single other lesbian

so i really wanted to meet lesbians and feminists

and i called an organization by the name of the center for gender problems

could i come to your library

it was January of 1999

i had come back to Russia

from Canada

where i had read a whole lot of books

about feminism

in English

i thought i had a lot of useful knowledge i could share

there was almost no internet back then

Can I come in the car to see your fucks no not fuck 75 bucks yes so weird that I’m dictating about books and you have a word like fuck and what the fuck why are fire fuck in why are you broken when I’m dictating the word books books books oh my god not fucks fuck I mean oh my God and mad crime butterfly its so surprising and what if I didn’t want to dictate this whole tirade about fuck right this whole thing yes on the phone for whatever fucking reason phone why did you write record this and where the where the fuck did you get the word fuck in my poem why did you put it in my poem tell me the answer answer me answer me answer me

could i come to your library

do you know the address

40 Uprising Street division 19 apartment 37

there was this lightness, this gladness

sunny crisp cold soggy day

the snow was melting and there was brown slush everywhere

my feet got wet

and then the door opened

an old door to an old apartment

dull yellow light yellow walls in the hall

i smiled hello it’s me i called about the library

oh, the library, yes, come in

she pointed to the door right by the entrance to the left

a big white door

right there inside wait a minute the librarian will be here soon

said a plump young woman with short hair

not looking at me and not smiling

but i was smiling at her i was shining

her face was expressionless

she turned around immediately and left the room

her back moving into the distance

of the apartment’s unknown

it was a big apartment

i opened the door i went in

sunlight fell through the windows

the white door closed behind me

i stood in the middle of the room

and i schemed

how how can i meet lesbians and feminists

my ex-husband’s mother told me that during the siege

she lived on this street and once a tall man chased her

but she was a kid she was ten years old her mom worked for the party

she had a big-deal job at Smolny and her mom told her

that she had to be careful because cannibals were hunting children

and there on that sunny winter day she realized that

she realized that this man wanted to eat her

her whole body felt

that this body was her body was her meat

that her body was his meat

that her body was his food

that he was a hunter and she was food

he was a monster

and she was a mouse

there he was snow creaking

following her every step

a monster

gaze piercing

snow creaking

and before then, Leah Pavlovna told me,

that was her name, and before then earlier that is that same day earlier she saw on the corner of Nevsky and Vladimirsky a woman was standing and selling very red meat she was shocked how red it was she had never seen such red bright meat before and then then she understood what kind of meat it was

she started running and the man ran after her

she turned ran into her building’s courtyard into the entrance jumped ran up the stairs and

there were hooks back then on the doors to lock them at night

and the door thank god wasn’t locked and she opened the door

and immediately locked in that heavy long black hook

and as soon as she had locked in that hook

the door started shaking shaking shaking the man was shaking the door

but it was a strong old-fashioned Petersburg door

a double door with a cast-iron hook

for protection from bloodthirsty men

from the monsters of the siege

and her mom was very surprised why is the hook locked on the door

and Leah Pavlovna told her about the cannibal

and her mom never left her alone after that

i heard a voice behind the door

a low voice

the door opened

and there appeared a tall woman with red hair

and red red lips

red hair straight bangs red lips

she didn’t look me in the eyes

she also didn’t smile

she asked me something

i said i basically came here because i want to write for your newsletter i said i want to be useful i want to be useful to your feminist organization and i can write something for your organization’s newsletter i know that you publish a newsletter, and i have read a whole lot of books in English about feminism about the history of feminism and about current issues while i was living in Canada, and also i read a lot of articles in the newspapers and generally looked up gobbled up information about women’s rights and about the struggle for women’s rights and about the struggle for lesbian gay bisexual transsexual queer plus rights

the woman with the red lips looked past me and said

let’s go i’ll introduce you to the chairwoman let’s go to the kitchen

and we left the library and walked down a long dark corridor

on the right another large room full of light

one woman was sitting by the door in front of a computer she looked at me intently

the woman who opened the door for me was sitting at a table in the middle of the room

she looked at me anxiously

and one more woman was standing with her back to me leaning her elbows on the table

and saying something to the woman who opened the door for me

and there i was in the kitchen a long table the redheaded woman said that her name was Valya and offered me tea yes thank you she lit up a gas stove and put a green enamel kettle on the deep blue flame she left, and on the way to the kitchen i saw a label on the door of another room i thought this is the lesbian society i came here for in the first place yes yes it was all a lie i’m not that interested in writing for their feminist newsletter though maybe i am but not that much not that much, and it’s so important so important to me to meet lesbians i want to meet feminists too but lesbians are more important to me because maybe maybe after i meet them a new life will begin for me i came to the center for gender problems but not to write for feminism i came only for myself yes i came here because i want love and sex with a lesbian yes i came here for love that’s my problem i came here for love

[yes i came here for love]

i went into the lesbian society’s room it was smaller than the library and by then the weather had probably changed or the sun had changed places or the sunset had started even, but it was dusky in the room and when i went in three pale faces shot upward over an open magazine or photo album or some kind of big book as though their faces were shining how could they read in this half-darkness they were probably looking at the pictures all three women had their hair cut identically very short, and i had long hair in a ponytail and also i had makeup on, and of course they had no makeup on at all of course, and i was all heterosexual-looking and i smiled they of course did not smile they looked at me no not with irritation, with tension yes with tension and indifference

what did i want what did i hope for what did i expect that they would open their arms literally open their arms to me their hearts that they would just like that lift their faces to me lift their gazes to me and smile and their eyes would shine and they would stand and walk toward me spreading their arms wide like crabs or something oh i don’t even remember what i asked maybe it was about the magazine their organization published a magazine i knew everything yes because i had been preparing for this moment for two years i did research on the internet in the library in Toronto i didn’t have my own computer i dreamed about this moment for two years

they said there was no magazine anymore or something like that i don’t remember, but it meant that there was nothing for me to do there and i went out of that room and never went back in there again in my life

Valya made me tea and we started drinking tea that was back when they still made little pots of strong tea and diluted it we started drinking tea and talking we talked for a long time Valya said she would go and find out when Olga was free and she left a figure was sitting on a chair by the entrance to the kitchen just sitting there waiting for someone i asked are you waiting for Olga too and the figure turned sharply toward me and said sharply i’m not from here and turned back around later i found out it had been Masha Gessen i mean i heard the name, but i didn’t know who Masha Gessen was, and then later Masha Gessen got famous

finally the chairwoman Olga appeared she started talking to Masha Gessen by then it was already dark outside they turned on the light in the kitchen there was just one single little lamp yellow light and shadows on the walls Olga said loudly who wants wine someone gave me wine and pulled red wine out of the fridge and put it on the table she opened it Masha didn’t want wine, but i asked could i have a little i asked smiling could i have a little and Olga looked at me stared at me heavily and said NO and kept drinking wine alone

later she told Valya that she didn’t like me because i smile and she doesn’t trust people who smile, and the woman who opened the door for me told Valya that she didn’t like me either because i don’t look independent she probably meant that i don’t look like a feminist because i smile a lot and i have long hair and makeup

Valya told me all this because she became my lover

i told Valya i’ve never had sex with a woman

Valya said it’s easy i’ll teach you

Valya was lying naked on my red comforter

in my room on Chernyakhovsky Street

the one i called an egg

Valya was lying in my egg

white walls yellow carpet curtains tenderly pink a tapestry scrambled yolk above the couch

my ex-husband’s aunt died on that couch

her name was Nina she was a pianist she only survived the siege thanks to her friend Zoya who worked in the public library and split her rations with her i think Zoya loved Nina her whole life and Nina knew it, but they never talked about it they didn’t talk about lesbian love i have a story about lesbian love in the Siege of Leningrad i wrote it a long time ago it’s about Nina and Zoya, but i don’t name them and there are a lot of different stories in there woven together, but i was thinking about Nina and Zoya when i wrote it Nina was a femme, and Zoya was a butch Nina was a drama queen, and Zoya was hard as flint Nina dyed her hair like Valya too with red dye, and Zoya’s hair was gray she was smoking Belomors when i met them at Leah Pavlovna’s in the late 1980s

Valya was lying on Nina’s couch her long legs apart

i went into the room i brought tea from the kitchen, and Valya was already naked on the couch

shaved pubes small breasts

Valya was lying on her back stretched out legs apart

she looked at me smiling

[i did not feel borders between bodies]

i can’t describe what happened next i’ve been trying for three days to describe our sex to describe how wonderful it was and what we did, but as soon as i turn my memories into words everything turns primitive and a little funny as though there are no words in the Russian language for lesbian sex i write Valya’s pussy was a miracle her clitoris was red like a pomegranate seed and her vagina was hot inside and my fingers possessed a sensitivity sufficient for orgasm after a single penetration alone into her vagina and the swelling pulsation of my pussy strove there into Valya’s pussy i write i did not feel borders between bodies endless sea endless sex i dictate to my telephone it writes there were no borders we are silly endless silly i write i didn’t know that fucking could be so mine mine entirely mine it was joy it was the most joyful fucking of my life fucking joy fucking joy fucking joy


Lida Yusupova & Hilah Kohen