Poem: I am the king of Belgium

I am the king of Belgium. See me patronise
la Grand-Place, my regal smile
beneficent among allies

disgorging from the Eurostar
on diplomatic business
to locate our finest lambic bar.

Sure, you may regard a grander square
or two in Prague, Madrid,
New York. Well, don’t compare —

just mark the gilded light that baffles
this thin drizzle, glancing off the corniced
guildhalls; mild as cream on waffles.

In French this house is mine:
Maison du Roi. In Dutch, the Broodhuis
breadhouse. Both are fine

but Americans express surprise
to see my royal highness stand
and guzzle frites with mayonnaise.

I am the king of Belgium, and with me
the k in king stays lower case.
We don’t stand on orthography

round here, though we have sent
well-drafted memorandums of support
to the nascent government

at Holyrood. Perfectly formed,
my realm is central to our continent.
Here is no Bastille to be stormed,

just a modest parliament, gothic town hall,
chocolatiers, cherry beers, dozing
scarlet dahlias strung along a stall:

a capital whose name distressed
Englishmen invoke to flag their scripted fears.
That island lying due northwest

reserves itself — but from this spot the tracks
to Europe’s endpoints radiate
just like the spokes of union jacks.

I am of a class that likes an agile domain,
fleet-footed in a time that sees
the superpowers on the wane:

we are the kings of Belgium and of Zeeland,
the emperor of Luxembourg, the tzars
of Zetland, Shetland, Sealand.

That’s how we get along —
and so back on the Place I pace
unnoticed through the throng,

black Converse below my robes. That’s all:
a monarch for an age disrobed of grandeur.
I am the king of Belgium. Think small.

This poem was originally published in issue 66 of The Interpreter’s House and appears in The Meanwhile Sites.

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