Bruce Lee — A Brussels Poem

Jasmin B. Frelih
Texte d’auteur
Samuel Foster 380827 Unsplash

Tous les résident.e.s de Passa Porta laissent derrière eux une trace littéraire de leur passage à Bruxelles. Ce poème est celle de Jasmin B. Frelih, qui était en résidence à Passa Porta à la fin du printemps 2017.

Slovenian writer Jasmin B. Frelih (b. 1986) was a laureate of the European Prize for Literature in 2016. His award-winning novel Na/pol was translated into several languages, such as English (In/Half, transl. Jason Blake) and Dutch (In/tweeën, De Geus, 2018, transl. Roel Schuyt). Frelih also translates Slovenian poetry into English, a.o. for Versopolis.
His residency at Passa Porta in May and June 2017 allowed him to work on a new book and also inspired him to write the following poem about Brussels in English.

Be like water, he said.
Change your shape,
align to the elements,
and flow.

A necessity in Brussels,
where all manners of intention
and ways of life
collide and coexist.

There is this vibrant tension
in an act ofwalking through the door
— any door —
drawing apart the curtains,
taking the metro,
the train,
walking barefoot in the park.

And when it gets dark,
the flickering of lights
reminds me of a certain dream
I've hoped to share
with all that is alive
in love with being.

Walking around
Hallepoort or Porte de Hal?
Zuid or Midi station?
Porte de Namur or Naamsepoort?
Always in two places at once,
double exposure.

Be like water, I was told
and like water I hoped
to give life to all that is
holy and pure.

But also to things imperfect
since what is there
holy and pure
in Brussels?

The little peeing angel,
held captive by a million
photographer's lenses?
The grass in the park
where we exchange
a million glints of sunlight?
The sleeping beggar,
the living statue,
the millions of politicians'
many coloured ties?

Or maybe elsewhere in
Belgium there is
some innocence?
The horizon in De Haan
bends like a teardrop
and a child on a tricycle
is blameless for all
its parents’ faults —
and what of the lamb
in Ghent? The artist
would like us to
experience purity
but is the artist pure?
Or is he — like all of us —
hungry, angry, wracked by
ambition and lust, all
things of the body, all
stains of the mind, and
he speaks to us of a
certain desire to
forgo his humanity
and escape the prism,
the prison of elements
which is why — when
we open our eyes, we
gasp and know, really know

Double exposure —
to what is
and to what is behind it
to beauty
and to what is inside it
to pain
and to what is all around it
— always in two places at once.

Was it in Antwerp
or in Antwerpen
where I laid my hand
on my one true love
instead of throwing it
at the nasty, brutish giant
coming to tear us apart —
or maybe I did both things
trusting the power of love
to cleanse the world
of its monsters?
But does the artist know love,
or is he just using the word
to conceal his
distrust of all things
worthy of being loved?

Of showing his heart,
but calling it pride
and dancing with the crowd
late into the Brussels’ night.
A true love would be
holding onto a single body
a single heart
a single mind
in just one place
of a single name
being like fire
a single ray of the sun
piercing one skin
and finding nothing but love
beneath the surface.

But I must be like water
I must change my shape
align to the elements
and flow.
Explore and exploit
the collisions
of the double exposure.

To what isn't anymore
and all that it could be.
To love
and our mortal fear of loving.
To who we are
and who we could never be.
Walking, waking
two worlds at once.

Do you understand me,
Do you feel these twin
lands you inhabit?
All of the spaces in between —
dusk, the morning aurora,
the edges of shades and shadows
the border of the rainbow
where sunlight disperses into rain
the leaning into a goodnight's kiss
the slight hesitation before
getting up from bed
standing in the doorway,
with nothing to hold onto,
forgetting something,
something maybe trivial,
maybe crucial,
but not turning around,
because, well, anyway …

There are two suns in our sky
the one rising in the morning
and the one hidden behind clouds.
Two moons at night
one silver
the other black.
Two skies, two nights
two of everything,
one you see,
one you feel,
one you know about,
one you care about.
Two you’s,
one yours,
one mine.

And in between
Brussel and Bruxelles
what is there?
A city of concrete and stone
and brick, some trees,
some windowpanes, a bit
of Europe, a bit of Congo,
a rich vein of chocolate,
a golden coast of
standing at the edge of
some vast and unrecognizable

Is there a politics to the way the stones are arranged?
An economy behind the map of the metro?
A philosophy of staircases, elevators and scaffoldings?
A whole cosmogony in the flickering of traffic lights?
How could I hope to have understood you
in a glance, a brief descent
down your streets,
but it is not about understanding,
it is about the belief
that we all can exist
in two places at once —
survive and even thrive
in the double exposure.

You make it seem possible,
you make it seem necessary,
as necessary as
a life wide open to all its possibilities
as possible as
a life worthy of being lived.
So what if we
— you and me —
don't sit on the balcony
every night smoking and
sipping beer
watching twin streets of
Jean Volderslaan and
avenue Jean Volders
move below us in time
as a giant spinning wheel
turned by all who claim
its space as their own.
And so what if we
don't know — or forget —
who Jean Volders was
we are each entitled
to think of him
in our own way.
You knew him once,
but to me
he will be forever a stranger
as I will become like water
and spill off the balcony
as a refreshing
summer rain.
And gather in the cracks
of the asphalt
for a tiniest moment in time
as the purest of all surfaces
reflecting completely
the entirety
of what there is
and then disappearing
and leaving
the mirror image of Brussels

Be like water, Brussels.
Change your shape,
align to the elements,
and flow.
Flow through adversity
even though it makes you wise
not rich
and you prefer riches
to wisdom,
a golden brick
to a golden dream.
But now we know
there is always one
within the other
and you can always have both
at once.

If you are willing to withstand
the double exposure
remain in two places at once
and not try to silence
the other
or pretend you are just one.
For how could you?
A true love is not for us
who flow against time
resolute in our
convinced of our
facing the past
with the same unwavering gaze
that glimpses the future
in all its manifold
strands, or should I say

Oh but now the sun
is beating down on us
and what shall become
of the shadows we leave
Will they escape us,
transform us,
complete us into a true
dual version of ourselves?

Or will we, in the end
be able to accept
that the light
that comes from our eyes
makes us translucent
clear as water
and that the rays of sun
which pierce us
leave no shadow
in our wake.

© Jasmin B. Frelih, 2017
Published by courtesy of the author for Passa Porta

Jasmin B. Frelih