Blue Guide

Verschenen in: ATLAS BRUSSEL


I    Gare du Nord

 

Arriving is like walking in on someone else’s divorce

proceedings: Belgium-wide, the Balkans, their weather,

their slowly fissuring statelets ripening into crisis,

averted crisis, crisis. There are no last straws;

that’s a law we Belgians learned too late; some of us

 

not at all. The rain falling slantwise over Gare du Nord:

Brussels composing its island weather, Symphony

in grey major, the nineteenth century still shaking

on the rails, the twentieth a late train.

 

 

 

II     Gare centrale

 

I had it for a moment, quick as the clash of two winds on a rooftop:

the smell of barley, hops, fresh diesel an its negative — used air;

then Belga smoke over the exhalations of the waffel-stand:

 

This feeling of penetrating misery is sponsored by Brussels

City Council in association with SNCB announced a voice

in white over the station tannoy. I filed this one away between

 

two stops, between Bruxelles-Nord and Bruxelles-

Midi, between the word départ, so definitive and final,

and the word partance, an ongoing going, a leaving

 

still entangled in itself years later like the sound of a train

turning the corner, its siren coiled around the echo of the last to go

and the tunnel taking a moulding of our departures.

 

 

 

III    Gare du Midi

 

Noon, the day’s South Pole. On separate trains again:

window to window, each of us learns our sense

of movement from the way the other pulls away.

 

 

 

IV    Quartier-Léopold

 

Colonial moss and plumes of baroque fern…

a station like a mouldy cake layered for a forgotten

coronation: icing stucco, pillars of sponge,

 

then a heart of darkness where the train stops,

a spasm in the network: the doors stay closed,

and the windows bead with tropical damp.

 

A moment in the triplet shadows, Gare de Léopoldville,

then we ease back into Belgium, a barge

sliding through diamond-studded blood and water.

 

 

 

V    Schuman

 

(The other Robert Schuman, one n, this one

so anonymous they named a station after him

where it’s dark enough to cultivate endives,

 

breed bats and harvest mushrooms,

where the only music is piped like chloroform

from unseen speakers into Euroland’s conditioned air.)

 

 

 

VI  Bruxelles-Luxembourg

 

Something is taking shape, a Leviathan fattened on damp

and disregard: the bureaucratic Unconscious, with its pages,

mobile phones and trouserpresses, taking all our deepest

 

desires and fears, our primal hatreds and our hardest drives,

and making them fill in forms. A new language which has no name

spreads along the billboards and the shop signs — Euro Dago,

 

Le Y€S Bar, Het Leader Bowling — beside which the sign marked

Liquidation totale seems full of Old Testament promise. Caught

on the down-bound escalator the one time in my life I stopped here:

 

the funereal blush of marzipan fruit in the chocolatier’s window,

laid out in their crinkled doilies like Lenin in his mausoleum,

and the ghost of their taste in my mouth: sugar dipped in formaldehyde.

 

 

 

Prose Between Stations

 

Things seen/heard from the top floor of the Brussels/Luxembourg Inter-City Express (only the train is fast – life inside and out takes place in some other zone of time, as thickly weightless as footage of an astronaut cooking breakfast between planets):

At Ciney a bull nonchalantly mounting a cow (this is outside the train) as the cow grazes on, pestling mouthfuls of grass with a slow swing of her jaw. She chews in time to his slack thrusts, each one hovering effortfully at the edges of itself, as if pulling into and out of velcro. This is the middle-distance, with neither the prestige of the faraway nor the imperiousness of foreground. The whole scene depends on the train's speed, which allows the traveller, forehead laid refreshingly against the glass, to pick it out with a distinctness and granularity that is at first disproportionate to its interest, then which quickly becomes its interest.

At Ottignies, students from Louvain-la-Neuve climb aboard with backpacks full of laundry for their mothers to wash: a journey of twenty minutes undertaken with a month of clothing. They are equipped to emigrate, but instead descend, as they always do, twenty minutes later, at Gembloux, where three workmen off the day shift at a zinc-plating factory step on and talk about their friend who hanged himself yesterday, the evening of the burial of his wife, dead last month of a pulmonary thrombosis. At Namur

three kindergarten teachers replace them seat for seat, discuss the school's Christmas decorations, affectionately mention a troublesome boy they like but whose life is in danger of going... (one of them searches for the right phrase, then with a little laugh gestures around her and says with a sort of embarrassed satisfaction:) off the rails, then settle down to comparing different brands of sleeping tablet with the discrimination and adjectival range of sommeliers discussing vintages.

The sky is a mild, uninsistent grey, streaked with oily-looking damp like those little cloths they put on headrests of armchairs in old people's homes.

This raw material thinks of all the contortions it would have to go through to become a poem, and decides to stay as it is: nondescript, if not undescribed.

 

De vertaalde tekst lees je in de papieren versie van DW B 2017 1 ATLAS BRUSSEL.