Featured Writer Erik Harper Klass

From Polish Poets in Beds with Girls, and Other True Stories (Part 1)

Łódź, 2018

Sielanka by Eugeniusz Zak

We sat here, once, do you remember? Do you remember how I became him? How I pressed my heels together, toes apart, separated my knees, just so? I lowered the brim of my hat, turned up my collar, splayed my fingers out on my left thigh. Just like this. Gleaming chin of bronze. Tight, little smile. The plaque at his feet reads:

julian tuwim

And the book? Do you remember? Nowy wybór wierszy (New and Selected Poetry).1 The color of unbleached linen. You had a copy and I carried it in this old JanSport (the blue a little darker, the stitches a little tighter), and we would stop—little squares, cafés, park benches—and you would read. One stanza at a time, first in Polish, then in English. I held it in my hand like psalter. Just like this. Just like him.2 One poem I remember: “Storm (or Love).” The gathering storm, you said. Curtains flying. Tempestuous skies. Between memory and glass, you said. Lightning, lightning, repeat. That cracking voice of yours. For the life of me, this poem was about a gathering storm, nothing more.

You, Rachel, you and your circumlocutions. You knew all along.

I sat here, an imperfect copy, a trespasser, following his metallic gaze up Piotrkowska toward the street of his name (a block north of his bench). I held still while passersby gawked, laughed. That forced smile, mine, his, yours. Piotrkowska blurs in the distance like a painting, the buildings—neo-renaissance, art nouveau—closing in like time. When I turn back upon this palimpsest of my mind, he remains, his smile unchanged. But you, of course, are gone, erased.

And then he turns to me, a changing of light, a reflection.

You talk to her, he says, not a question.

Sometimes, I say.

He nods, imperceptibly, before speaking again.

I remember you, he says. It was a year ago, wasn’t it? Here in the shadows of a past spring. You were so happy then.

I do not answer. Was I happy? It seems so long ago now.

Down the long street couples walk by holding hands, girls in short shorts, their hands sometimes in the back pockets of the boys’ jeans, a position reciprocated by the boys, creating walking, diminishing cruces decussatae. The girls’ legs are long and pale here. They hold their purses close to their sides, the straps across their bodies at angles, like beauty pageant contestants. They do not look at us as they pass.

I have chosen, quite by chance, I say, a single shelf of her library. All the books are there, yours, the other poets, the theoreticians.

He does not speak, so I continue.

I am a bricoleur, I say. I make do with the “limitations of my heterogeneous repertoire.” (I pull a book from my JanSport, lick a finger, find the page, read.) “The ‘bricoleur,’ ” I say, “is adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks; but, unlike the engineer, he does not subordinate each of them to the availability of raw materials and tools conceived and procured for the purpose of the project. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand,’ that is to say,” I continue, “with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions.”1

I close the book. He is silent, watching the girls walk away, as if each were a lost lover on the pavers. So many endless departures.

So you have written this for her? he asks, without turning.

Oh no, I reply. She has left me. She is long gone. I have written this for you, I say. For the other poets. For the birds, I say looking around. For the clouds, the city, the air. . . .
1 (1956)
2 Although he holds a different a book: Kwiaty Polskie (Polish Flowers) (1941–42).
3 Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (1962) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 15.


About the writer:
Erik Harper Klass studied mechanical and manufacturing engineering at UCLA and music at Berklee College of Music. Now he writes. He lives in Los Angeles, California. Erik Harper Klass is the O:JA&L Featured Writer for December 2019.

Image:  Sielanka by Eugenisz Zak (1884-1926). Oil on canvas. 85 x 115 cm. 1921. Public domain.