“Lake as Body,” by Denise Leto

The salamander, black with red spots climbed into her mouth

with its pods, its sticky pods and it pulled at her lips:

replenished, stricken. Losing the larger frame of sound

she was unable to speak, her voice seized in grainy rivulets,

lesser dams. The salamander swam beneath her tongue

it was gorgeous and frightened or frightening—

she wasn’t certain. It kept being a world in there

so she wouldn’t swallow its slick skin hiding in glottal stops.

It didn’t pretend to be her primal self. It didn’t pretend

to be anything other than its own body.


She couldn’t tell the Trinities apart: sky, ground, day, night.

Her face opened to reveal a bowl of granite: stars, water, trees, bats.

She was reading Lives of the Saints and another salamander,

grey with yellow stripes, crawled out scrambling the iconography.

Santa Rosalia blurred in amphibious motion, humid prayer;

repetitious, scroll-like, its body undulated under the pages.

She was thankful for the sinuosity, the lingual respite, the non-poem.

But in her mourning to bear the words again and again: live, live, live

in that third incessant underneath apostolic pushing at the edge of her

presence she knelt down in the form of a letter. Incubation: little daphnids:

a land phase. Once grown, they can extend the tongue more than half

the length of their entire bodies. She receives this almost asleep,

constellatory, writing notes with her other hand: desire.


The shoreline, as she entered, as body, sang: ankles, thighs, hips.

She couldn’t get out. She didn’t want to get out. Thick, oozing, coiling mud.

The surrounding mountains held clouds de-forming or a reflection

of the water in her blood. The poem as ex-anatomy: mossy, old, ripe,

crushing, also coiling. The poem as costume, trap, banter, chorus.

She was nude and sheltered in dirt. There was no because. Her nakedness

drew that older part of the brain asking: for more, more touch her more.

Yes, there. It filled her mouth, covered her eyes, buried her. You could no

longer see her hair just sticks and clots of algae. This empire of animism

was hers. What was lost emerged and took her back.



Printed with permission from Denise Leto, copyrighted by Denise Leto @ 2014. This piece, winner of the Fall 2014 Orlando Prize for Poetry and selected by Finalist Judge Cheryl Clarke, originally appeared in Issue No. 17 of the Los Angeles Review.

Author: A Room of Her Own

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