Erik Harper Klass

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

 Władysław Broniewski

Idylla by Eugeniusz Zak

Perhaps someday it will happen like this:

She turns away from him. She wears a loose-fitting silk crêpe negligee, trimmed in lace and cinctured with a matching silk ribbon, tightly tied. She holds a pillow over her stomach. He has surrendered and turned away from her and now rests with his back against an elaborately carved headboard of satinwood fringed in a guilloche, with tufted velvet padding, above which, on the wall, two karabelas with their long sweeping blades cross in a silent, never-ending duel. He holds a glass, once full of whiskey, now empty. He reaches to his right and from a silver case resting on the marble surface of what the French call a guéridon à crémaillière pulls a cigarette, lights it. The smoke carves the air in a guilloche. Jaśka, he says. Please, I can explain, he says. She does not move. He lifts from the guéridon a pencil and a small pad of paper.

He was in Kraków reading poetry in a basement café with no windows. He will call the other girl “R.” He was drunk. He read Mayakovky’s early poems, his own translations. He wore his uniform and marched in place on a low stage lit by a single klieg. He waited until the people began to march in their seats, the whole room echoing. Left right left right. . . . Oh, how the room resonated, like a great battle drum. Left right left right. . . . And then he read aloud: Pound the steps of rebellion into the squares! / Raise higher the bank of proud heads! . . . Left right left right . . . Through the scree of smoke the heads nodded in time. He kept his glass of whiskey next to him on a high stool, where it glowed yellow-orange like a citrine flame. Next to the glass an eight-spotted forester moth.1 stretched its wings atop a white towel, neatly folded. The room was hot. He could feel sweat trickling down his back. The smoke carved the air in a guilloche. You see, the sky of stars is bored! / We’ll weave our songs without it. . . . He did not stop, even at the poem’s close (Heart, strike the beat! / Our breast is the copper of kettledrums!).2 He dropped the page on the floor and began to march across the stage, making elaborate volte-faces at the red curtains that fell at the stage’s wings. He shouted: Left! . . . Left! . . . Left right left! Some people in the audience stood and came up through the smoke, climbed the two steps, and began to march with him on the stage. He made up poetry. He shouted between stanzas: Left! . . . Left! . . . Left right left! The words, the rhythms, this great stream of revolution, took hold of them. Spring spilled in their veins.3

Later, after, he refilled his drink and wiped his face with the white towel (the moth had disappeared, perhaps lost, like Daedalus’ son, in the light’s heat). Someone put on a record of Shostakovich, some waltz. She came to him after the reading, dancing alone in the air. She


had green eyes, auburn hair. They went out into the night and down the roads to a small garden near the river. An old cathedral by the Wisla stood gray-spired upon a high hill. They held hands. He was drunk. The night was dark, free of consequences. Rooks called in the night like watchmen. Forester moths danced in pairs. Lie down in greenery, my love, in the meadow. He remembers her scent: flowers and soil.

Jaśka, I was blind, he says. I was drunk. He turns and looks past her body, past their clothing lying in disarray on a méridienne of rosewood and scarlet linen, he looks through a window, to the sky. An old cathedral by the Wisla. Then he looks to the page. There in the silent dawn the old bells ring their benediction to the day aborning, while the sunrise, with a crimson tongue, laps at the crimson river where it lay. You are writing, she says, without turning. He runs a hand through his hair. Outside roves the night, feebly. He lets out a slow stream of smoke, the silver circles cutting one another like scythes. He puts down the pen. He wonders if he will ever forget the girl with the green eyes, the auburn hair. I can explain, he says. I was drunk, he says. Come to me, my love. You know I cannot live without you. He is the poet who speaks like a poet. He leans over and refills his glass, puts out his cigarette, lights another. The smoke carves the air in a guilloche. An old cathedral by the Wisla stands, gray-spired, upon a high hill. There in the silent dawn, the old bells . . .

The truth is, when he is with her, he does not love her. It is only when they are apart that he loves her. This is his curse. This, he believes, is the curse of all men. So he will drink. He will forget. It is in this way that he leaves her. It is in this way that he might love her.

The sky lightens from black to something like slate. In the distance the old bells ring, echoing across the city. Perhaps Mayakovsky is already here, Władysław Broniewski thinks to himself, imagining that the ringing marks his arrival to the city. I will go to him, in the sweltering rooms of night, to hear him read. And then, drunk, down these dark streets, I will love her, I will love her again. A renascent love. He picks up his pen, quiet like time.

There in the silent dawn the old bells ring
Their benedictions to the day aborning, he writes.
While the low sunrise, with a crimson tongue,
Laps at the crimson river where it lay.
And in the dark, the rooks reply forlorn.4

1 This is a surprise, as the eight-spotted forester (Alypia octomaculata) is typically limited to North America. Mirabile dictu!
2 The poem is by Vladimer Mayakovsky: “Our March,” in Selected Poems, trans. James H. McGavran III (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2013), 67.
3 Ibid., 67.
4 He would eventually change the mise en scène to one of sunset. See Władysław Broniewski, “My Homeland,” Introduction to Modern Polish Literature, 424.


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. 83.5 x 114.5 cm. 1920. Public domain.