The Belgian Poem
1. After years away I was back in London visiting a friend who lived in Kensington in one of those cheap council flats that in my day poor people like me fought for. He had a few people in; some I knew; some I didn’t. They sidled between the furniture and the stacked books. A bitter smell came from marigolds in a vase.
2. I can’t record the scene in detail because it’s being made up in Brussels by Étienne, who is creating me in a poem written in Flemish. My life unfolds as it occurs to him, and he puts together the setting from literature and from conversations with travelers.
3. An old friend with whom I had fallen out showed up, and it was as though the bad times had never been and as though he had never fattened and had never gone gray. For a while, the party seemed more lively and the gin more effective.