Four Poems

by Peter Fogtdal


When I was born, I took one quick look at you and thought, here we go again, the same banging of heads, the same manic migraines. We were at each other’s throats for centuries; my soul migrating into baby fat after bonding with juices and DNA. The repetitive drooling was my protective wall while you towered over me like pine, ready for petty revenge, even though you weren’t aware of it yourself. My feeble attempt at prose was trapped in diapers while you stared at the clenched fists that grew out of my crib. Later, I got toy tigers and discolored Legos, comforting breast in mouth: 2 A.M tit, 5 P.M. tit from Mom; full pension at the Ritz you created from scratch because you were brilliant at your job. I slept as much as I could, wanting to get away from your eyes that challenged me for duels. But history repeats itself. History runs in the blood in a never-ending dance with karmic math so I only seemed to be the victim. I was the damn executioner as well, staring you down with poisoned pimples, refusing to admire you like others did. But there was no way in hell I was going to be your foot stool. There was no way in hell I was going to be a silent witness to your war with elevators and with everybody else who had the courage to cross you (and the whole world crossed you; that’s what worlds do, that’s their damn job). I stood up for myself, but I’m not a fan of warpaint, I don’t like the smell of napalm. Low hanging grenades leave me cold. But the biggest problem I had with you, the most painful of all, was that I loved you very much.


I’m visiting your museum north of Copenhagen,
not far from where I was brought up myself.
And I walk in your footsteps like so many others,
sensing the raging sadness in the walls of your mind.

I admire those African drums that yanked your soul
out of Europe, the colonial zebra skins,
that grandmotherly furniture from a stoic age.
A year ago, I began to understand your tales
in a way I hadn’t before. When I read you now,
you’re breathing through the prose, taking my fictional
hand in yours, half-angel, half-witch, as you were in life
and now in death.

In your museum, you come alive in unexpected ways.
It’s early spring, a pale sun is melting the grass.
There are only a few visitors and you’re not pleased.
Now you point me toward an unknown poem
and a drawing of an Italian Doge you made in art school
when you were a little girl. I stare at the Venetian ruler,
a Doge I’ve dreamed of myself. Now goosebumps race
through my body as if they want to show me
how connected we are in ways we don’t understand.

In your garden, a thin grey line leads over the pond
and into a small wood where you were laid to rest
sixty years ago. The timid colors of spring are green and sage;
a rare stork returns from the south and lands on a Scandinavian
lawn that is pregnant with magical tales. Do the naked beech trees
pass the stork test, or will she return to the African highlands
and find a farm to her liking?

Once more a writer and a reader become one
in the silence that makes a mockery of time.

To Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen


Sometimes silence falls
on deaf ears
in a world where language
has become a meme

So today let’s celebrate
the joy of dead space

The odd windchime

making a Tibetan excuse
for itself

harassing gutters
with morbid fall leaves

Secret lives
from lily-white petals

Stellar jays
texting pompous pine
but forgetting you
the second you’re gone

We’re all of no

and nothing
could be more important
than that


Don’t ever believe your thoughts.
You have no idea where they come from,
a download from a stepdad with bleeding ulcers;
an unconvincing ad for partisan compost;
furious parrots cloaked in scripture.

Don’t ever believe your thoughts.
They might be monsters devouring kidneys,
an Egyptian curse surviving skin tags,
ancestors whispering about righteous mayhem,
zombies demanding green cards for Pluto and the Pleiades.

Don’t ever believe your thoughts.
Trust the joy pumping in your chest cave.
Log into the library of sappy love songs.
Let goosebumps rise from singing rivers.
Join the dance of juicy planets.

Your thoughts build palaces you don’t want to live in.

Your thoughts give rise to migraines and measles.
Your thoughts step on paws of sleeping house cats.

Don’t ever believe your thoughts.

Peter Fogtdal

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