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A Selection of Poems


How dare the waves rise
and break against the shore?
I watch them disappear
gone forevermore.

I have so many questions
want to know it all:
How can the waves break
and rise from the fall?

–Lene Fogelberg, 1989 (translated from Swedish)


The city heaves its chest
through chimneys
and rusty exhaust pipes.

Cars, motorbikes, taxis, buses
fill in the city’s coloring-book
humming the song of the paycheck
of food and shelter.

A gray haze
colors outside the lines
wrapping the skyscrapers in a forged sky
paintbrush dipped in dirty water.

His brow in the clouds
the child squints like an old man
looking up at mama
What color is heaven?

She shakes the bottled water
holding it up to the gutter
–inverted brown water–
Like this.

–Lene Fogelberg, Jakarta, 2015


Around me:
hard and heavy,
sharp and pointy objects
vehicles for speed,
glass, metal, concrete–
everything loud, sure, articulate,
generals in command:

Inside me:
soft and light,
shapeless, tender words
–sky letters
road signs in lightyears,
galaxies and stars–
coming gently, calmly, quietly,
tapping inside my chest:
At ease.

–Lene Fogelberg, Kuala Lumpur, 2016

Naked Fears

Wrap me in new words of comfort,
the old ones are frayed and torn:
I tug at the hem of a worn
there, there
to cover my naked fears.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2016


Time cheats us
compresses years
into seconds:
you grow up
you are gone.

condense oceans
into tears:
for your smile
for your eyes.

Days fool us
conceal the night
in plain sight:
you wake up
fall asleep.

But we cheat all:
combine our loss
with our love,
that is our

–Lene Fogelberg, 2015

A Beautiful Assault

My blood thin,
my thick skin,
my tender scars,
my breathing hard;

half asleep but twice awake
–the colors needle sharp–
every moment gently drawn
from us, from us, from us, from us.

My heart beating
the life out of me
the life into me;
a beautiful assault.

Keep beating.
Keep beating.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2018

Earth Hunger

I plow the snowy field
into ragged rows
of words
longing for the soil of my ancestors.

Black-rimmed nails
manicured by the earth
the seeds
falling from my fingers…

–Lene Fogelberg, 2018


In this illegal moment
stolen from the neck of time
–a string of precious seconds
falling between our fingers–

our promises are breaths of air
that we give each other
choking in the dark void.

I can feel the galaxy twirling around us,
its merciless pirouettes around itself,
arms outstretched,
the whirling dust
pulling at us,
the nauseating speed of it,
the brutal force
of its tulle skirt,

our eyes watering,
our hands trembling,
the speed of it,

the speed.

But we have this moment,
the galaxy turning around us,
we have the stillness of its cold core
the unblinking eye,

where your fears cling to mine
and my hopes cling to yours,
a brief forever
in this infinite moment.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2019

Under a Kayu Abu Tree in Bali

I sense a language
in leaves turned to the sun
their thin bodies eyeless, mouthless, armless,
a chorus in green-Dur.

I hear the music
lifting my face to the sky
eyes closed, silent, still,
to the joys and pains of growing.

I feel the words
dancing in light and shadow
on my eyelids, my lips, my plains of skin,
to be uttered.

I carry the signature
written in my soul
invisible, inaudible, untouchable,
for the artist.

I sense a language
in my frail bones of dust
my blindness, my silence, my stillness,
not dust, but star dust.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2015


I am a proud warrior
of the tribe of the heart
my scars telling of my battles.

I have my victory speech
written on my body
reminding me that I survived.

I have my prayer
engraved on my skin:
thank you for this day.

I have my poem of pain
scribbled in red ink on my chest
faded by time.

I am a proud warrior
of the tribe of the heart
and I claim this body as mine.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2015

The Story

The story is a splinter
aching in my heart:

Pull me out,
hold me to the light.

I am a question
coming from a forest of answers.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2016


A serpent of light
crawls under the curtain
telling me I’m in the dark.

Out there are my maybes and mights
everything that’s sure and uncertain
the fire, the flame, the spark.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2016

Wring Me Out

Wring out my aching years,
wring out the tears,
wring me out
and lay me to dry
under a smiling sky.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2016

Rain in the City

I wake up to the rain,

knocking on roofs,
streaming down pipes,
pooling on asphalt,
tapping on windows,

Where are the seeds?
The growing stems, the thirsty leaves?

I can hear the disappointment,
the rain crying:
In vain, in vain, in vain.

Then I see a child,
jumping in a puddle,
turning up her face,
stretching out her tongue,

raindrops dancing on her head.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2017

Morning Walk in Kuala Lumpur

The elevator reeks of durian,
a smell as heavy as regret
and sweet as hope,
the fragrant ghost of the fruit
sticking to me as I’m catapulted
to the ground.
A few steps
and I plunge into birdsong,
treading sunlight into a rising beat,
the bulldozer behind the fence
playing the drums,
the black beetle buzzing past me
–an F sharp on wings–
the city yawning and stretching its skyscrapers,
pouring car after car down its tunnels,
a whiff of cigarette smoke from
just around the corner of my eye,
everything just out of sight,
even the sun stroking
honey-dipped fingers across the road,
the hot air blurring the lines
of palm trees swaying to the rhythm,
their long necks forgetting their stiff joints,
slender shadows melting into mine,
the cracked cement sidewalk
unravelling under my feet,
forever pulling me back
into yesterday,
every step remembering the next
so that I’m walking alongside
the ghosts of my past and future selves
sticking to me like the scent of durian,
a smell as heavy as regret
and sweet as hope.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2019

At First Sight

Before any words,
your gaze cut me open,
heart surgery
performed in seconds.

In the stillness
of my silent heart
all of my dreams
rearranged themselves.

All of my fears
fell off my shoulders,
pushed aside by
this one violent fear:

I can’t even articulate,
just an ache,
a confusion in the
membranes of my cells:

my body can’t remember
the days before you
even though my brain
is sending postcards.

I am not the same,
forever changed,
the thought filling me with
terror and euphoria.

–Lene Fogelberg, 2019