Check out my new poems on the Kelsey Street Blog as Featured Poet! Invited by the wonderful Anna Soteria Morrison…

Three poems by Denise Leto

In these three new poems by Denise Leto, perception becomes a vortex—it’s own pressured mode of being. One’s senses converge to reach the same rapt conclusions: “the fox does not pretend/ to speak for culture . . . she is still an apostrophe.” To be on a trail is to be open to surprises as they become evident: mice are injected with human laughter; legs grow mold; every moment makes a diary entry. Through Leto’s precise insistence and uncoerced intimacy, the gulf between her perception and yours is a distance, but it is never a separate space.

The Vocabulary of Foxes

A blur stitching air, rather ribbing air to come upon

and not know, naming it blithely on the ground, but above

the fog panopticon (they always run just as you see them).

What sense to have:
to run always when you see them.

The sense through which we perceive (the sight) of foxes

through which they perceive us: hearing, smelling, the guise

of air, her feet on a trail, odiferous, the wind, the tail.

Scattering marks the path
over which we walk not run.

That the presence of an observer changes animal behavior

and we do not possess the sense to be what they hear or don’t hear.

Aspects of a fox, its voice (if it were) within range if it were

all at once running, always,
just as you are always

a system of movement overheard. Foxes, mostly silent,

within a broad repertoire of sound, (she) they can easily

be mistaken for other animals: raccoons, birds

a smaller braincase, finite repetition
based on a set of complex vocal patterns,

the fence abrading the trail, it is a monstrous job just to think of it

just to watch the animal, the wet, the perhaps, the glimpse

what she cannot, what is crushed underfoot

(running) foxes exhibit
some of the most varied calls.

Few studies have been able to explain them all.

Just as you see it (it leaves) and you are left with the trail underneath

(walking by) facial expression, body posture, tail wagging, the fog that lingers

after the walk, not from reportage or anything as you may view it

from the hill, the early ambient, her rising to what is seen—when—

a fox is removed another fox will quickly take over the vacant territory.

The sense to stay that way,
where the ground (periodically)

gives no argument but circling wider proximity depends on proximity.

By day foxes shelter in their earth or dens and depend on

her earth, her den, her fog, her eyes, her hair, how quick

a sudden turn—tender—set against
unabashed criss-cross patterns.

Noise in the polis (the fence), a corpus alley stricken, the form the urban fox inhabits:

parks, cemeteries, railways (rather than seeing the world) foxes smell

and hear it, the thing out there that we costume only apparent at the grasp.

Disaster overwhelming homage,
who we are depends

on if—the sound—or not—that will—the lull of a sound forgiving

the lack of traction, counter-mapped carefully, what the fox may hear

while we decide or at least engineer or at least register the registry:

the canine family
and their relatives, that is,

members of this family are adaptable—this makes them successful colonizers.

We see the fox just as it leaves (we do not) that is why she must make.

In all habitats in many areas of the world and often in close proximity to humans

the fox does not pretend
to speak for culture

that (she) makes. The trail corrodes, dirt ribbons, nothing hinges

the meteorology of startled, sit in the bending grass anapest, foxes run,

mark scent, bark, scream, sometimes she is still an apostrophe.

Foxes call all year round,
all year round calling

and in winter (mostly in winter) they are heard, there is less vegetation

to muffle the sound, or startle a blur, the trail, a sense

of what might have been missed calling or seen.


Vigilant on the Periphery

She wakes up. In a chair in the airport.
Walks to the gate, her ticket has green teeth.
She pulls it out of her pocket. It rips hungrily
into the paper. She runs to the counter with legs
growing mold. It takes too long. It eats through
her clothing. Her diary entry for that moment:

The data fragments are wanting interpretation. It is not
in me today. My cells resemble catacombs. The monks
ask me how it is that I am here. I dreamt that the missing
proteins collected mice and injected them with human laughter.

She cannot get on the plane. Others hover.
They are not bees. They are not insects of any kind
that she has ever seen. She has been to every
continent but this shift in perspective counters
in the orange, blinking light. The hovering eggs her,
but she stays still in the damp chair with her luggage
between her knees. Diary entry:

I am subsumed by corporeality. The diseased world.
Inside is a startled stone on which to rest
the materiality of burden: yet to be contracted.
I will wait for the outcome to which I am unattached.

She watches the news while she waits for her body
to form a conversation with the many elements at hand.
The elements parade. They have multi-colored flags.
Stiff pride permeates the engine. She cannot breathe.
They want so much. Results, budgets, her psyche.
It is a lightening storm. The plane encounters turbulence.
She must get off the plane. But they say it is too dangerous.
She reaches for the exit. Diary entry:

Opulent and certain and worded and wouldn’t they.
Who orbits what sun? If existence were made up of just one of you.
Then maybe. Then stop. I am asking you to stop.
Your lordly meetings, his lowly maze, his urgent action.

She fights layers of disequilibrium. Tries to count them
with fine tools. The movie on the plane shows a red balloon.
A child. It floats. She has turned the sound off.
The conversation takes place in algorithm. Her legs will not fit
and the restlessness begins. The balloon disappears.
Her lap cannot balance the tray. The water sways in the cup.
Someone remarks that the economy no longer supports
what life will need. Her report is due. She wants to light
a cigarette. The sign in the lavatory warns sternly. Unnerved
antonyms squirm by her form. She wakes to skirt entirety,
stint of when or if: her unmet science. Does anyone notice
the endings below? Diary entry:

The virus now serves them well.
Fat pockets dead center. There are warm-blooded remains
in the stadia. They take stock of every one of them.

She cannot stop laughing. She has removed herself
from the plane. She is on another plane. She disembarks.
She is on yet another plane. The shifts are ominous.
This way, her destination cannot presage her thoughts.
They can hover outside the meetings. They can stay in that place.
Where there are no mice with pink eyes. Her beacon is pallid,
discerning. Gives sad latitude. She allows for continuous shock.
Their crass wall will not stow death or situate remuneration differently.
The eggs are frantic. Diary entry:

I remember the stream across fields that I never saw
and never touched and never knew. I remember
the fire that burnt through the elegance. I remember the air in the building
that smelled of waiting. I remember the moment I turned away.
I remember the arrows that pointed in any direction. I ate mold.
I titrated needs. This is where the abbot pads softly to the shower.


And We are Each Other’s Country Now

She puts down the book and never picks it up again

our Lady of Consolation have mercy on me

her research consists of trying to be alive lapsing Mary

attachment to matter gives rise to passion after nature

when the scriocco arrived, it blew for three days

the silence is both mother and sister

Sicilians are sensitive to invisible currents

any remaining particles of communion wash into the earth

Demeter came after Persephone vanished

parts of Mazara del Vallo are often referred to as Little Casbah

the words stemmed from her throat without a sound

ricompone le sillabe del nome—i petali

recompose the syllables of the name—the petals

enter the parade of corners in their brightly colored robes

sorrow like unto your sorrow




Citation for the line “ricompone le sillabe del nome—i petali”  from “And We are Each Other’s Country Now”: Attanasio, Maria. “Street Stalls.” Translated by Carla Billitteri. Amnesia of the Movement of Clouds & of Red and Black Verse. Brooklyn: Litmus Press, 2014. 25.


Denise Leto is a poet and editor exploring different forms of media and performance. Recent work involved a collaboration with cellist/composer Joan Jeanrenaud and choreographer Cid Pearlman. Their cross-genre performance piece, Your Body is Not a Shark, examined embodied difference and disability through music, sound art, poetry, dance, and movement. Denise wrote the book of poems/libretto published by North Beach Press. Her collaborative chapbook with Amber DiPietra, Waveform, was published by Kenning Editions. She has been an artist in residence and fellow at Djerassi and presented her work at various venues including the Congress on Research and Dance Conference at UCLA, “Creative Strategies for Collaboration, Poetries, Movement and Music,” “Emergent Communities in Contemporary Experimental Writing” at UC Santa Cruz, and “Feminist Embodiment, Somatics, and Disability Poetics” at the Subterranean Art House. New work includes, “Sacrarium: A Sound Poem in Six Parts.” A collaborative essay with Jen Hofer and Amber DiPietra is forthcoming in the anthology, The Force of What’s Possible: Writer’s on Accessibility and the Avant Garde, from NightBoat Books, edited by Lily Hoang and Joshua Marie Wilkinson.