Łódź: Spring 2019, Observations

People flood past as I make my way down the long boulevards of the city. The tattooed girls eat ice cream cones and look at their phones. People walk muzzled dogs, more muzzled dogs than I have seen anywhere else in my travels. Cars. Cars are moving. I stand at a streetlight and notice that the walk button says proszę dotknąć, which means, according to my Polish-English Dictionary, please touch me. Things are altered here: light switches, for example, flip down for on. The tattooed girls have long pale legs and smoke cigarettes languorously. I sometimes find myself interested in the variety of shapes and patterns one finds beneath one’s feet as one walks the city: squares, rectangles, cobblestones, setts (fan-shaped), setts (stacked), etc. I stand at a wall of shattered concrete and read the most beautiful graffito I have ever seen, three words—zażółć gęślą jaźń—which means, according to my Polish-English Dictionary, make a gusle’s ego yellow. Traffic signals, for example, flash orange before green. Bricks in a herringbone pattern (forty-five degrees), bricks in a herringbone pattern (ninety degrees), bricks in a running bond, etc. I observe the sunlight falling through the cordate leaves of linden trees, mottling the granite pavers (rectangles, running bond), and yes, the trees, the trees, the trees: horse chestnut, mountain ash, honey locust, black locust, common bird cherry, hornbeam, apple, cherry plum, London plane, sycamore maple, red maple, field maple, Norway maple, silver maple, silver maple, silver maple. The tattooed girls have sun-streaked hair that leaps and falls as they walk down the floriferous streets. Excuse me, I should watch where I’m going, I said, looking up from The Complete Book of Trees of Britain and Europe by Tony Russell, to an old woman feeding pigeons who did not speak English (the woman). People. People. People are running. Cars. People. People are running. Cars. Perhaps the dogs are more aggressive here than in other locales. Stairs, for example: one walks up them to first floors. There are sculptures everywhere in this city: here is a sculpture of a Polish writer sitting on a bench, watching the people pass, pencil poised above a page, upon which I read the words Pierwszy wrzaskliwy świst fabryczny rozdarł, which means, according to my Polish-English Dictionary, I’m not sure I know how to carry on. Bricks in a basket weave bond, bricks in a stack bond, majuscular I’s in a running bond, etc. I just remembered that at the airport of the city I noticed a light-green plastic screen in the urinal drain displaying roughly three hundred and twelve regular hexagons, the screen itself in the shape of a regular hexagon. Pigeons dart. Cars. Cars. Cars. Cars. Cars. Cars. Cars are moving. Opening quotation marks, for example, fall below the line of text. The tattooed girls walk past in all different sizes and are dressed in all different colors, as if some beautiful matryoshka doll had been disassembled and scattered about the city. A gusle, according to Merriam-Webster, is a rudimentary musical instrument of the Balkans made with a round concave body, parchment sounding board, and one horsehair string and held between the knees and played with a curved bow. Hexagons, octagons, squares, dodecagons, hexadecagons, icosikaidigons, etc. I walk past an abandoned building that exhales into the hot April air a cool corpse-like breath that makes me want to at once both enter and flee. Trams. Trams. Trams. Trams. Trams. Trams. Trams. Trams. Cars. Cars are moving. The tattooed girls, everyone one of them, remind me of lost love. Moving. Moving. Moving. Moving. People. People. People. People. People. People are running. People are running. People are running. Running. Running. Running. Running. Running. People are running. People are running. And the sky is a sheet of blue as crisp and clean as a great expanse of nothing, absolutely nothing, but wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . and there it is, on the horizon, there, where the sun flounders in this floundering afternoon, a cloud, a great cloud, a distant shelf of cumulus, like a dense flock of birds, a stampede of wild horses, a phalanx of gray-green soldiers, and it is fairly apparent that the people of the city—walking (or running) past me with ice cream cones and phones and pinwheels and flags—do not have any idea, not the slightest, that less than one hundred years ago this was a ghetto, where to the best of our knowledge over two hundred thousand Jews were imprisoned and then taken away in train cars to Stutthof, to Kulmhof am Ner, to Ravensbrück, to Sachsenhausen Oranienburg, to Gross-Rosen, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, but we know, don’t we, we are “properly educated,” we know our fucking history, and is this, this darkness, what you’ve been waiting for all along?


Cars. Cars are moving. [. . .] People. People. . . . [. . .] Cars. Cars. . . . [. . .] Trams. Trams. . . . [. . .] Moving. Moving. . . . : Józef Robakowski, Samochody, samochody! (Cars, cars!), 1984, video, 1’58”, Muzeum Sztuki (MS2), Łódź.

Cover art: “Coiled Pinwheels” by Josh Stein

Erik Harper Klass

Erik Harper Klass has published stories and essays in a variety of journals, including New England Review, Slippery Elm, Summerset Review, and Yemassee (now Cola Literary Review), and he has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. He writes in Los Angeles, CA. More at erikharperklass.com.

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