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