Featured Writer Erik Harper Klass

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

Aleksander Wat

The Object is attainable only by way of an incessant postponement, as its absent point of reference…
—Slavoj Žižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality (1994)[1]

She lies naked, prone, her head resting on a lace-trimmed pillow at the foot of the bed, legs bent at the knees, feet raised. Her right leg is angled forward, toes pointed. The left leg is bent back about ten degrees of vertical, the foot flatter, toes relaxed. Occasionally she reverses the legs, a fluttering, like an entrechat, an inverted dancer aloft, almost floating, reminding him (too) of a well-tuned machine, perfectly calibrated. The smooth skin of her shins glints like polished rods of nearly white bone.

He is in no rush.

He, also naked, lies in the conventional manner—that is, the reverse of her position (they are vis-à-pied, let us say)—with his back against the headboard. She lies to his right, and occasionally, when her feet have stilled (the dancer landed, the machine arrested), he reaches and lightly touches a toe or heel, and she moves her legs, forward and back, as if he is the energy and catalyst to get this beautiful contraption running. Above the bed is a framed print of a Japanese woodcut of man and woman in bed making love in the yin–yang manner in a room overlooking a river in which porters swim, left to right, beneath a darkening sky.[2]

He is translating one of Mayakovsky’s poems. For a moment there is no other sound in the room but the whisper of his pencil.

More and more I wonder
Hadn’t I better just
Let a bullet mark the period of my sentence?

He writes his translation on a single sheet of cream-colored paper that rests on a closed Russian–Polish dictionary, itself supported by the open palm of his left hand. The open book of Mayakovsky’s poetry (in Russian) sits on the extended flap of what the French call a bureau à pente to his left, within reach, next to an eight-sided die of real bone with the number 8 (coincidentally or otherwise) facing up.

She waits for him.

He loves this woman. He is in his third year now of what he calls his Great Love. He had imagined a love like this, as far back as he can remember, an abstract, largely somatic concept centered principally in the lower region of his stomach and descending like something leaden and unwieldy to his groin, but now that he has by some miracle of fate or chance found this love, he has discovered that in this reified form, love has without the slightest dissipation spread outward from his bodily center (indeed a subsidence here and only here) and reached the terminus of each limb, the outer surface of his skin, and the very center of his mind. But it is precious, and as with all owners of capital (or at least those with sufficient foresight) he wonders how long this wealth, this imbalance, can possibly last. How long will she be the answer to all of his questions? How long, ten years now after the real Revolution, how long until his own revolutions reverse all of this and return him to a dialectic of what he remembers as a persistent longing tinged by moments of poetic forgetting? I always knew I would come to

More and more I wonder . . . More and more I think . . . Often . . . Often I think . . .

The great Russian poet Mayakovsky arrives to the city tomorrow, and the poets of Warsaw will convene at the cafés and speak his name and read his poetry and speak words in Russian. But what death is this? Surely not the death of the man himself. Not a physical death, a death of blood and bones, a literal bullet. Not this man, who would speak, shout, sing, almost taunt, the words sending chills up and down the spines of his audients, pounding upon their bodies like a great torrent, a madness. This is not a poet, he thinks, not even a man. This is an empire, the coming world empire.[1] But what death then is this?

I often think
Of letting
A bullet m

For there is something else with this man, he thinks, something of a paradox. A contradiction. He hears, like an echo of the utterances of a proleptic ghost, a gentleness, a melancholy, a lumen obscurum, an ahistory, and most of all, yes, a love.

I often think
Of ending my days . . .

She turns her head and looks at him, over her left shoulder, luminescent and white, tinged with pink, like the egg of the gray linnet. She has green eyes, as green as the leaves of the linden tree, and she raises her eyebrows, like a ballerina on her toes. Soon he will put down the page. He will slide down, reach over to her, and she will move to him, she will rise up and envelop him with her body, she will engulf him like a soaring dancer, like a soft machine, and they will nourish each other with their love. But they will not rush this. For love, as we know, is a process, a journey, never an arrival, so each time they seek to slow things down, each time they seek to drag things out. Perhaps this is how they will keep this alive: the lyrical, the I of love.

Her legs have stilled and he reaches over—beyond their clothing spread out on the bed in some disarray—one touch, a balletic fluttering. She turns away. He is in no rush. Before putting down his pen, he writes:

I think so often
of ending my days
with the full stop of a bullet.5

1 (London: Verso, 2005), 95.
2  Utagawa Kunisada, De pleisterplaats Shimada, color woodcut on paper, c. 1835–1845, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
3 “A Damned Man” in With the Skin: The Poems of Aleksander Wat, translated and edited by Czesław Miłosz and Leonard Nathan (New York: The Ecco Press, 1989), 21.
4 He used these words in later writings. See Aleksander Wat, My Century: The Odyssey of a Polish Intellectual, trans. Richard Lourie (New York: Norton, 1988), 44.
5 Vladimir Mayakovsky, “Flute-Vertebrae” (1915), a.k.a. “Backbone Flute” (multiple translations).


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: Idyll by Eugenisz Zak (1884-1926). Oil on canvas. 61 x 74 cm. 1923. Public domain.