What You Have Heard of Brussels

»What You Have Heard of Brussels« is the opening chapter of a novel-in-progress Sofie Verraest worked on during her fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude. Mousa, Simon, Alina, Vitoria, and Miriam are all characters in the book, which is conceived as a manic song of praise that – well, it can hardly last, can it?

Sofie Verraest — Mrz 17, 2021

Akademie Schloss Solitude - What You Have Heard of Brussels

There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.
1 Corinthians 15: 39-40


the […] initiands are often considered to be dark, invisible, like a planet in eclipse or the moon between phases; they are stripped of names and clothing, smeared with the common earth, rendered indistinguishable from animals. They are […]  associated with life and death, male and female, food and excrement, simultaneously, since they are at once dying […] and being born.

Victor Turner

What you have heard of Brussels is true. Of all the cities in the world it is the city closest to Heaven. This is not a lie, but a true thing, a fact. One can gather proof by walking the streets & then stopping movement & directly looking up. What one finds, looking up, is a whole second landscape, complete with sloping, swelling, tectonic shifting. One finds clouds that will part & clouds that will gather & a dirty pigeon will fly across & the light, o the light, it will, fiercely, be light, because this is where Angels live. It is where they live & breathe & dream up the city below & make house in its Bastard Children, who are the real reason Tim & me moved here almost ten years ago: these Brussels Angelbastards, who are, in fact, lit like candles. Who are, in fact, bright & genderless Goddessgods, raging & radiant, solid & see-through. »Let us go,« Tim had said, annoyed, discouraged, having looked at those around us. »Let us go.« At those around us with whom we shared dialect & childhood & little else. Who had stabbed us, Tim had said, in our innocent backs. »So let us go,« & we had done so: placed our dark things in boxes that, close to midnight, when the moon was full & the year 2009, we unpacked in the soft glow of a hundred thousand Angelbastards, who are the real reason we moved here almost ten years ago. Who are the reason I am still here now, despite difficulties, turmoil, crisis. Despite these happening presently. There are days, these days, when I cannot look. The light falls in, the sun is gold, the city alive, but I can only close the eyes. I close the eyes. I bend the knees. I lie down flat. Not one thing more can I do. But when I do this, I see clouds. & when I do this, I see purple skies. & all around me I see the purple wings of the brilliant Angelbastards of Brussels, who surround me with their beautiful, deficient love. Who call me on my phone. Who ask how I am doing. How I am doing now, with everything. They who are this city. It is of them I want to sing.

Closest to Heaven does not mean Heaven. However, it means close. So close, it means, no other city is closer & feeling just like it, looking just like it. So, Brussels is a place of, yes, tarmac & brick & other such hard materials. A place, also, yes, of flesh & flow & invisible toxins carried on the wind. A place of dark & many corners where uncontrolled bodies do uncontrolled things. A place where reasoning is, yes, routinely flawed, attention span short, the sense of time warped, but, o, but, o, the Goddessgods of whom I want to sing. Who crack the knuckles & bite the nails. Who look for shade on sunless days. Who attempt to remember until they forget. Protocol & etiquette they forget. Food for the road they forget. To charge their phones they forget & what you have heard is true: they growl when they reach orgasm, they howl when the moon is large & low, they scratch the shins unthinking. But, o, these Angelbastards pure, who bathe me in such warmth. O, Simon, Alina, & Mousa, too. Who drink with me the rum & beer & walk with me the many streets & cry for me some tears, it is of them I want to sing. Mousa, yes. Vitoria, too. Miriam & Alina. Who came to Brussels like Tim & me, packing inconsistencies & in the belly a fire they hoped would not yet die. Who left a town & many clothes & languages they once spoke. Who inhabit, wear, speak Brussels now. »Good evening,« they say, a million different ways, »we came here to be free.« In a broken-down English, »good evening,« with an accent of Persian, of second-hand German, a left-over from Akan. With a sound like Arabic, like radio static, a sentence from Russian, from Basque. »Good evening,« it spills & leaks on the square because these are the good Brussels ways. All flows & froths & streams in this town. Alcohol, tears run down the streets & tonight, on the square, while the church bells ring, while the clouds turn pink & the carousel spins, tonight once again, while the soulful sing, all flows & froths, goes right around, the blood & thought, the sperm & spit, a throb of nerves & quickened lymph. The ovum leaps, the air congeals, another Bastard Child is born. Look, there is its halo.

This, then, is my city. These here are its people. Into their eyes I look & in my heart find prayer & praise. & if all could be a dream & my words one flow unending, & if never came a moment for breathless catching of the breath, then for the whole rest of my life a flow of prayer I would say & for this Brussels city, & its Bastards who are Angels, sacred gratitude it would convey. I would use its whole duration, yes, to demonstrate & prove how all around me men of Brussels, who are Goddesses & Saints, how all around me Brussels women, who are men & also Gods, how all around me spirited beings, precious Angelsouls, how all around me, almost daily, they carry me & soar. Those with wings – this is true – almost never do not spread them, & even though quite frequently they act like keys that have no lock, & even though, more than as road, they act as something like roadblock – despite these little miseries, happy would my earth time be relating how these Goddessgods impressively persist. In their breathing & their eating & digesting they persist. In the getting up in the morning & the spreading of their wings. In the giving of their blessings. They get tired & ill & all the time lost, but in their trying & helping they persist & persevere, & very quickly, at the age I have now reached, which is the age of 33, when I was struck by disaster & became unmoored & free, very quickly at this age, in this city that is here, this unending prayer of praise would also take the shape of a love song, lone & sweet. A song of love so musical, so memorable in structure, a song that wraps the heartfelt into melodies so plain that you will not want to cry to it, even though you would – such a song of love, the most smitten, I would sing, & never would I stop to breathe, & only sugar would I spin, & never you would cease to learn, through the clouds of your own tears, about the Brussels Bastard Children – aureoles & flapping wings & mud caked to their undersides – & with me you would sing the praises, for example, of Alina. Who, on this difficult Friday evening, in the time of my high need, is so good & kind as to unfold for me her sofa-bed – & put me down to sleep. & in the morning bring me coffee. & an orange. & soft cheese.

Sofie Verraest is a writer. She curates multilingual literary events and teaches literature, creative writing, and urban and architectural theory at Ghent University and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent/Belgium. Her interests include very short prose, the problematic concept of a mother tongue, exophony and multi-/translingual writing, narratives in architecture and urban planning, and the city in fiction. She lives in Brussels, a city in reality.