Erik Harper Klass

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

 Kazimierz Wierzyński

We strained toward the future too impetuously and avidly to leave any past behind us. The connection of one period with another was broken. We lived too much for the future, thought about it, believed in it; the day—sufficient unto itself—no longer existed for us. We lost the present.
—Roman Jakobson, “On a Generation that Squandered Its Poets” (1931)

The Swan by Eugeniusz Zak
The Swan by Eugeniusz Zak

He lies on his back, naked, and she straddles him, her legs tight to his body. She wears one of his shirts, a spread collar, unbuttoned, color of ginseng (a wonderful word in Polish: żeń-szeń). She wears nothing else. Next to the bed lies a Polish rug (possibly manufactured in Łódź), upon which their clothing lies in disarray. He has removed his wire glasses and set them on the flap of the open bureau à rideau to his right, atop Mayakovsky’s For Reading Out Loud (in Russian), which sits next to the following objects: a silver salver holding two empty port glasses, one rimmed in maroon, the other not; a small ceramic plate, crossed with a paring knife, on whose blade the residue of what may have been the juice of a ripe lotus fruit is visible; and eight miniature ceramic figurines of poets, each, in a slightly different way, holding a scroll in his left hand and a quill pen in his right (the feathers are real: eight iridescent filoplumes of pigeons).

He does not enter her. They take their time. A long and glorious present. Aeschylus: A bright and dreamwise ecstasy.

She leans over him and her breasts come free of the open shirt. The left is slightly larger than the right, but the right areola (the color of sinopia, he thinks, of rust, of umber) is, he has noticed many times, slightly larger than the left, thus exaggerating the disparity in size, something like the Delboeuf illusion.2 He at times clings to this imperfection, as if somehow it might delay her eventual leaving—for she will leave someday, he knows this (the prophecies, ever living, flutter ’bout his head, like flies). She brings her open lips close to his but they do not kiss. Eyes green like linden leaves. A scattering of freckles across her nose, her shoulders, her arms. A little gap between her front teeth. Her hair, still slightly wet from bathing, falling and tickling his face. In her, his goddess, his Circe, he searches for flaws, but in truth, even her imperfections are perfect. Perfection in Polish, a beautiful word: ukończenie.

He does not enter her. A game they play, hand in hand, fingers interlocked. How long might these splendid chains endure? How long might this contented forgetting last? Someone once said—perhaps it was Reymont—that the writer lives in the past, or in the future, but rarely the present. But Kazimierz Wierzyński has a deep and unwavering belief in today. We want to be poets of the present, he once wrote. This is our faith, our whole program. We are not tempted by sermonizing, we do not want to convert anybody, but we want to conquer, to enrapture, to influence the hearts of men, we want to be their laughing and their weeping.3 The revolution has arrived, so proclaim the revolution’s makers.4 Troy has fallen and the messages have been sent, the interchange of flame and flame (again, Aeschylus). So what then of the future? Of the futurists? Where to look? Who to be? And poetry? He would rather not hear the great man speak. He would like to stay here in this Elysium, he would like to languish in this everlasting now.

This man who comes to the city tomorrow, yes, he is a swart god, a church, high on the summit, harmonious cupola, all of these things. Kazimierz Wierzyński will go with the other poets, he will listen to the great man read, he will let his words take him to a future, and then he will smile with the other poets and enjoy the smoke of a hundred cigarettes and the coolness of iced vodka on his throat. They will exchange words in Russian and talk about the coming society in all its splendid inarticulacies. But he knows that Mayakovsky sings of the lyricism of love. His early poems have betrayed him. There is wrapped up, folded within the contours of muscle, in this giant of a man, this colossus, the beating heart of a lover.

She will leave him. Hers is a different kind of love. Hers has the idea of movement, of action, and thus of incompletion. She would put on her pretty dresses and hats, grab his hand, take him to the cafés and cabarets of Warsaw. They’d run with the other poets, what she liked to call the intelligentsia—she’d say the word in Russian: intelligyentsiya—and they’d drink and dance and listen to the new jazz bands in dark rooms of smoke and heat. Love was like that for her, communal, in motion, always a passage to the next necessary thing. His love for her was already complete, already perfect.

To be here, with her, always. To forego writing another poem. To merely waste away together, a ceaseless comingling, an interminable inspissation of their love. So he does not enter her. This is the game they play. Perhaps it will last forever. Endless, infinite, in Polish: nieskończony.

1 In Language in Literature, ed. Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1987), 299–300.
2 The metaphor, truth to tell, is questionable: in the Delboeuf illusion, the inner circles, which appear incongruent, are in fact congruent
3 Cited in Marci Shore, Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation’s Life and Death in Marxism, 1918–1968 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), 23. See also Zbigniew Folejewski, Kazimierz Wierzyński: Forty Years Of Poetry, The Polish Review, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Autumn, 1961), 4.
4 N.B.: “As soon as one identifies a revolution, it begins to imitate, it enters into a death agony.” —Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2012), 144.

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: The Swan by Eugenisz Zak (1884-1926). Oil on canvas. 63.3 x 90 cm. 1922. Public domain.