Erik Harper Klass

Bruno Jasieński

from Polish Poets in Beds with Girls, and Other True Stories (Part II)
The Woman and a Clown by Eugeniuscz Zak

He has, by now, been with many girls. Fragments of them remain, like little splinters embedded beneath his skin in impermeable cysts. One had eyes of such striking greenness that he imagines their color exactly matching that of the leaves of the linden trees of East Central Europe. Another had a voice that cracked at the ends of phrases as the pitch descended, a voice he found captivating (and also fleeting). Another girl had freckles, traces of them, like afterimages, strewn across her whole body, constellations, in negative—he remembers their patterns and luminosities as an astronomer might remember the stars. Another had a gap-toothed smile, a smile that haunted him for a long time after her leaving. And then there is Anna. She does not love him. She may have loved him, once, for a day or two, perhaps a week, but no longer. And now that she has begun to pull away, now that their days are numbered, now that they are going through the motions (so to speak), he will break her down, dissect her into a collection of parts and processes. He will pick and choose those pieces to keep, and those he will try to forget. He is in complete control.

A lit clos with a feather mattress, a blanket with an unidentifiable floral design, olive green on eggshell. A Bilbao mirror with cracked glass. A ticking banjo clock with an eagle above the face and a painting on the pendulum door of a Russian peasant smiling on a tractor. An escritoire with the flap down, upon which sit several books, including a folio of Karel Čapek’s 1920 play Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in Czech, a Polish language translation of a summa on the monsters of Græco-Roman mythology by English author Charles Gould, a book in French called Fantasmagoriana, another in French called Frankenstein ou le Prométhée Moderne, three books of Mayakovsky’s poetry, and set atop the others, open to its last page, a German language translation of an English translation of a Græco-Roman enchiridion entitled, in German, Ulysses.[1] The placement of her arms and legs is somewhat analogous to that of a quadruped, and he is behind her on the lit, in a position the Russian’s call rakom (раком), which means, more or less, “crab-style.”[2] Moonlight like a sheet of ivory silk penetrates the windows, draping itself across the floor, the walls, the furniture, the books, their moving bodies, all of this.

The windows? There are two of them, one on each side of the lit, and beyond the glass, one can see a courtyard of regular octagonal pavers and squares, the area of each octagon, as is widely known, greater than that of each square by a factor of the product of 2 and the tangent of 67.5 degrees, and there is a small unkempt garden—rectangular in theory, but appearing rhomboid—in the far corner of the courtyard, flowers difficult to identify, probably at least one or two daffodils, and surrounding the garden a small wire fence shaped like the absolute value of a sine curve, fallen over in the exact spot where someone inconsiderately let a bicycle fall, its wheels’ rims lambent in the moonlight, and this is all neither here nor there, absolutely insignificant (and therefore, some may claim, absolutely, superbly significant).[3]

He thinks like this now, in numbers and shapes, in the incorporation of industrial forms of organizations, modes of production, dialectical materialism, and so on. He thinks of assembly lines and interchangeable parts and the happiest of toiling masses. He imagines drilling machines and bed mills and butted objects and the axes of spindles, turret lathes designed for the repetitive production of hollow-body tubes with smooth superficial fascia topped with tumid bulbous glandes, the untold splendor of cloaca extrusion by various firm shafts. This is how he thinks, now that Mayakovsky is dead.

He looks at her: her legs, the backs of which in the pale light are pale like the pale wood of the box tree; the triangular shapes of her scapulae; her river of vertebrae; the dimples of Venus, just superior to the gluteal cleft; her auburn hair clinging to the back of her neck, what is called the occiput, in little strands, glistening with sweat. The way she cries out, softly, yes. These fragments of her—which, of course, make up the entirety of her—are already becoming mixed with those remembered (embedded) fragments of his past loves. Each girl becomes a composite of what he has known and what he learns anew, for he brings to each new girl all the girls of his past, those parts of his choosing. A soldering, a tightened bolt, a turned screw, a hammered nail. Each girl is a complex mixture of arms and eyes and legs and breasts and hair, a chimera, a fantasy—but the most irresistible of accumulations, the most wonderful of monsters. (This is nothing like Antoni Słonimski’s lovers, who are all incompleteness and loss.)

So he prepares for her leaving: In these moments (the frequency of which increases) he works frantically to solidify these sensations, to more firmly fix those parts of her that will live on: the smoothness of her skin, the way she turns and looks back at him, over her left shoulder, glistening like a smooth white wetted shell, the way she smells something like the sea, the way she says yes, the way she says yes, the way she says yes yes yes. This is how all of his loves—a long line of lost loves, these beautiful creatures of his mind—endure. This is how he will never be alone.

[1] Karl Radek in “James Joyce or Socialist Realism?” (1934) wrote that “[Joyce’s] basic feature is the conviction that there is nothing big in life—no big events, no big people, no big ideas; and the writer can give a picture of life by just taking ‘any given hero on any given day,’ and reproducing him with exactitude. A heap of dung, crawling with worms, photographed by a cinema apparatus through a microscope, such is Joyce’s work.” See Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934: The debate on socialist realism and modernism in the Soviet Union (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1977), 153.
[2] The Latians would say coitus more ferarum.
[3] I. A. Richards: “Superabundance is a common characteristic of great art, much less dangerous than the preciousness that too contrived an economy tends to produce. The essential point is whether what is unnecessary interferes or not with the rest of the response. If it does not, the whole thing is all the better probably for the extra solidity which it thereby gains.” Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) (London: Routledge, 2001), 252.


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 Woman and a Clown by Eugeniuscz Zak (1884-1926). No medium specified. No size specified. No date specified. Public domain.