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 and 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.
X - Ciney
The pines yeasting up in the shade they make along the tracks,
and suddenly the brewery sign rears up: a half-raised glass half-full.
XIV – Bouillon
No train has stopped here since the ’50s, but it remains
in all the ways that count my stop. It still says Gare
above the arch, the guichet’s glass has stayed unbroken,
the tracks are gone but there’s a kind of stitching
in the ground, parallel scars where grass shrinks
back from growing. Then, kerbside vertigo:
that two-foot drop from platform-edge into
the next arrival, its endlessly suspended service,
and a few (never so aptly named as here, now)
railway sleepers, hold all I’ve ever known, in miniature,
of the world’s speed and its solidity, a delirium of lost footing
followed by the knowledge that there was nowhere further
I could fall. This is still the quartier de la gare,
where the rain comes down like credits on an old film,
a roll-call of lost professions: slate-cutter, gamekeeper,
sommelier, market-gardener, butcher’s boy, seamstress,
blacksmith, breeder of rabbits and dole queue flâneur…
the last being my grandfather, tempering each day to a fine point
on the soft anvil of his idleness. Artisan du temps libre
he called himself, artisan of the empty hours:
filling his days of worklessness in the Café de la Gare,
then hollowing out his nights in the Hotel de la Gare;
he never made his mark on anything
and yet I see him everywhere.
XVI – Marbehan
1 – the way in:
Disappointed that the place has given me nothing, even in its passing, to write a line about, I am gifted (along with the disappointment, which I do not waste) the window of the waiting-room that commemorates – 1895-1980 –Maurice Grevisse, the great French grammarian; or rather, to disambiguate, the great Belgian grammarian of French, here in his home town called ‘Monsieur Bon Usage’, Marbehan’s Mr Grammar, and immortalised in the waiting-room of language.
2 – the way out
The houses in a domino effect of turned backs
show us their gardens as we leave town:
children’s trampolines, basketball
gibbets and the fervent, verdurous algae
in the paddling pool where a deflated ball
puts me in mind of Monet’s waterlilies at Giverny,
scattered with flakes of sun. Then nothing.
Sky, its blue non-sequitur.
Two minutes. Now clothespegs on a line:
quotation marks around an empty afternoon.