Erik Harper Klass

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

 Bruno Jasieński

Akt na tle pejzazu by Eugeniusz Zak

And then there is Klara. She no longer loves him.

They lie on a bed of violet-blue sheets. She lies on her left side, turned away from him, and he is behind her. Her right leg is raised slightly, toes pointed. Not far from the bed a window is open and a breeze—a spring breeze, warm, moist, smelling of the city—blows across the sheets, across their moving bodies, across their clothing, which lies in disarray on a Polish rug laid atop a wood floor (appareil en épi, darkly stained), across the room (the breeze blows) to a secrétaire à abattant, opened and piled with several books and a single notebook, opened to a page displaying the following words, a translation, written in Bruno Jasieński’s handwriting:

Omnipotent one
You thought up a pair of hands
Fixed it
So that everyone has a head.
Why couldn’t you fix it
so that without torture
We could just kiss and kiss and kiss?

The books piled on the secrétaire: Mayakovsky, Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky, Kamensky, Mayakovsky, Mayakovsky, Joyce,1 Mayakovsky (open). The breeze lifts a page of the notebook, the page is turned, a new page is revealed:

Omnipotent one
You invented a pair of hands . . .

She is not the one for him. They both know this by now. There is not much to say about it. People fall in and out of love. It happens. And yet, thinking back to those days and nights when she came to him and undressed and moved against him with a confidence and deliberateness he had not yet encountered in his anxious wanderings, he wonders where this love could have gone, he wonders how love could depart under such exceptional conditions. He still cannot resist the physical specimen of her, the way they fit together, as if sex is itself some sort of aesthetic act that can be carefully choreographed and performed and critiqued and made better each time. When his love for her was not reciprocated—there was, of course, no exact moment, just a gradual awakening of the inevitable loss, as happens sometimes in chess—he turned to her body, her flesh, as if sex could be a substitute for love.

She was raw and unimpeded. She opened to him like a rain cloud, all hot and electric. And he came to her, again and again, like a migratory bird, a diadromous fish.

. . . You gave us a pair of hands
for everyone to have a head. . . .

From the window one can look out over the city, the rooftops silvered in moonlight, the many chimneys rising up to their clay-fired pots, reflecting pale ellipses like a million eyes beneath a sky the color of flint. Klara is beautiful. The auburn hair. The green eyes. She has freckles everywhere, constellations, strewn sparsely across her back, more densely on her shoulders. She wears around her neck a violet-blue octahedral fluorite on a gold chain, a gift from a past lover, a necklace she never removes. Her legs are pale like the wood of the box tree. The breeze turns a page:

. . . that without torture . . . that without . . . that without torment
We could just kiss and kiss and . . .

(Klara’s legs were the inspiration for a story he wrote in which Izolda Morgan loses hers in a tram accident and her lover Berg collects the appendages from the hospital and becomes attached to them as objets d’amour, even as the living, breathing woman sits waiting for Berg in a room of violet-blue light and falling tears.)

You gave us a pair of hands,
for everyone to have a head. . . .

Love, ecstatic and unbridled, we know, often runs the risk of becoming something like affection, a dirty word. Lust turns to placidity, mere contentment. But they preserve the purity of the sexual act (for it is all they have)—there is even violence, they are sometimes left bloody and bruised—as if they could cleave the act of any surplus, distill it of any sentimentality.

. . . Why couldn’t you see to it
that without torment
We could just kiss . . . We could just . . . We could . . .

Sometimes while making love to her he would try this: he would close his eyes and imagine his past loves, one by one. Sometimes she would become L—, with her cute little laugh (he cannot remember what they laughed about, not a single thing) and her cute little

dimple on her left, no her right, cheek. Sometimes she would become B—, with her silences, her vulnerability, which led her to a kind of addiction, a stifling dependence, which he did not find unpleasurable, for a time at least. Once in the darkness, Klara on her side, he behind her with his eyes closed, she became F—, with her slender body and brittle smile and violet-blue eyes and beautiful, empty mind. But then, each time, the sound of Anna’s voice, the feel of her hair and her body, the smell of her, something like the sea, would return, and with her coming, her reappearance, these past loves would all come to an end, like a film quickly burnt through.

At some point she will open her eyes, turn toward him. At some point their coupling will cease, and then, when the physical act of love has diminished to memory, what is left?

Almighty O Lord
You gave us a pair of hands,
for everyone to have a head.
Why couldn’t you see to it
that without torment
We could just . . 

It is of course fear that keeps this going, fear that imprisons them in this lovelessness, fear of being alone. Even those who do not love have this fear.
The breeze passes through the open window, crosses the room, a page turns, the completed translation:

O Lord,

grant us that we might fuck without torment!1

1 A German translation (for there were few other options at this time) of a book of Græco-Roman mythology.
2 Vladimir Mayakovsky, “Cloud in Trousers” (1914–15) (my translation).


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: Akt na tle pejzazu by Eugenisz Zak (1884-1926). Oil on canvas. 94 x 73.5 cm. 1922. Public domain.