Interviewing Anastasia ~ a poem

 In Poetry

Interviewing Anastasia (April 22’)


I have found a dream interviewee; her cheekbones and the light

flowing from tall windows of this Dagenham townhouse like God never left, not even to get milk.

Her hosts, straight from Church, still smiling sociability as they leave in florals and chinos, their children safely tucked away ‘with relatives.’

‘Really nice to meet you’ they say, ‘Likewise, thank you so much.’

They are happy that I am here, that she is here, and are happy to show it. I am grateful,

as if, for a moment, I belong in their hatstand with assorted walking-sticks – the hosts are humanitarian collectors.


‘Let me show you around…’ says their elegant guest, in practiced English.

Yes. This is what the girl and I need – an icebreaker to orient: myself, twenty-two-year-old Tasia, and her pretty baby Grace, who hangs on Mum’s shoulder for a familiar tour…

Baby gear; high-chairs and crawlers.

‘They let us have it…all the things from their kids. But of course, babies want to play with everything in the kitchen that is dangerous!’

All smiles.

Wrinkleless, she glides to the garden-room like the competitive Gymnast that she was and describes her own mother’s love of flowers. I get my i-phone out.


Between gazing up the long suburban garden and my out-stretched lens, sunshine is Tasia’s confidante, making young motherhood timeless as Raphael could, or Apple technology in the hands of a Gen-Z and Millennial.

The street whistles from outside. It is a good afternoon in East London, where my wide-angle lingered over the corner mechanics’, its engines humming like bees.

It is time to sit. Grace is in the front-room play-pen, fixated by Peppa-Pig on an i-pad, her Mum sits patiently as I prop-up the improvised camera on a tripod, smiling as if she knows better; she probably does.

Her Dad wears a bullet-proof vest as he clocks into a shift in downtown Kyiv, where it has been cold for a month and his tech’ company grows dark and faceless.

The talent is composed; we talk about their Visa process. How it was quick but complicated, how her and her Mum are ‘so lucky,’ how their hosts ‘showed me on the internet, two times, but I got it,’ and her middle-aged Mother was measured across two borders for her ‘Body Mass Index.


Tasia’s ‘Varsity’ sweatshirt is evocative of students, ones studying for post-Grads, or debating whether to be ‘exclusive.’

Upstairs, there is a Victorian vase of oversized, pink roses because this week, a year ago, Tasia and her High School sweetheart got married.

‘He sent them’ she says. ‘I tell him not to miss me too much.’

As a cheerleader in the bleachers, she is the voice of gratitude.

‘It was because of my Church, we are here. We are friends with the families. He will come when he can.’

What about the others?

At the centre of nappies, and wet-wipes, and feeds, and grocery shopping, and job-centre visits with her host-mother, Anastasia’s brain has trained itself to sidestep chasms –

dark cracks between bedtime and sleep time, heaviness behind guest-bedroom curtains. Worry:

‘My best friend who I haven’t heard from in three weeks. My sister and my mother who have gone back to get clothes. My husband and Father…’

Tasia keeps her hands on her knees with a diplomat’s poise and stretches her fingers, only once…

‘I am sorry.’

We have to stop recording. Because this young woman does not wish to cry in front of anyone, not even herself and not baby Grace. She breathes…

‘When the tanks came into the village of my parents’ Summerhouse, they were in the basement for 1 week…without food, without light…

And my Dad, he is crazy…he went up to the occupying soldiers in the street and told them he needed to feed the chickens…’

Yes, there is a heart-warming/breaking anecdote – the father who persuaded Russian militia that he was a roaming idiot and made them believe.

Now an image conjures of my own parents, both resistant to authority, one claustrophobic – trapped, helpless and hungry – and I sidestep it.


Grace is restless, so we put her on Tasia’s lap. A fleshy comfort blanket, reason-to-live, blue-eyed and perfect baby, but not oblivious.

‘I want to study fashion. I would like to be a designer…’

I can see it – her model presence and application – the desperation to win against all odds…a few months, years from now, in another world,

when the twenty-three-year-old has led a one-hundred-year life, and her husband bears the scars of an innocent pursued by a starved army.



We agree to keep in touch, I thank her for my piece of student journalism that is absurdly grown-up. Her emails a year-on still speak of flight…

‘We are going to the US for a new life, we think there will be more opportunities. But we are together, which is what matters…


Tasia and Grace XX’



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