Ode to Brussels

Brussels, the marked city,
aloof from those who love you
but for all that quick to anger,
how shall I then approach you
out of the mildewed fields?

Along the broad ribbon of asphalt
that pushes through the rolling grass

and later, over the flyover
that reaches almost to your roofs.

Concrete and glass is your heart.
You creak and hiss in two tongues.

My birthplace you are called,
but you’ve always been a morass,
soggy, sucking everything in.

City that defines me.
You don’t even deserve
the snow on your roofs
nor the rain-showers in August.

You stick your fingers in other men’s pies.
You expand, beyond rhyme and reason
fixed in another tongue.

And I who record you know
that you have no imagination,
blinking with all your lights in the night
like a whore wearing too much make-up
afflicted with the falling sickness.

From Goya’s Black (Het zwart van Goya, 1982)
By Willem M. Roggeman
Translated by Tanis Guest

First published in The Low Countries, 1998