The Leech Collectors

by Dhara Rodgerson


You, darling,
marched ahead of me,
yielding your legs to the
shadowy murk of the water.
Clots of frogspawn arranged
themselves under our feet.
Each hour we waited
for the leeches to appear,
so we did not speak then,
only hunched among
the lichen and quillwort.
The pond stirred.
It took minutes,
but surely they found us,
and the muddy mouths of leeches
groped against my limbs.
How the leeches leapt
out of the darkness!
They surfaced slowly,
and cleaved us open,
thinning the swollen
blossoms of our veins.
We could not collect them
until their bellies were full.
You had dozens, sometimes,
wrapped ‘round your ankles,
but you never wavered,
or shunned the bruises that
browned under your skin.
Their hunger was more
important than ours.
I lingered back, afraid,
and you reached out to hold me.
Ahead, you plunged into
the water and surfaced
with a face full of leeches,

a grey-black beard
twisting from your jaw.
Oh they looked like plucked
eyelashes there, dangling
from your cheeks!
You called me closer,
and I moved to help you
collect the leeches that
still clung to your lips.
A welt of blood emerged
above your chin.
It spelled desire,
but I did not kiss you,
for I was too young then,
and too uncertain.
If we stood in one place
for too long, we began to sink.
Our calves were tossed
in a crown of dark weed.
By seizing my body I was able
to rise against the current,
and open myself to your
weary arms below.
No man could know you,
no man could hear you
murmuring your sweet
word-lappings to my ear.
When finally their meal was done
we gathered each bloodied worm
and plunked them one by one
into our jars, leech-tails wagging.
Their bodies weep blood once more.
Looped in pain,
you wailed as I scrubbed the mucus
from your legs.
Of course our flesh
was not made for feasting.
Pain cannot be escaped by us:

not until death,
kneeling at a place
where the body rests
after the leeches,
banqueting our blood,
have chosen to sleep.
Dearest, you found leeches
in the strangest places!
After our hunt,
we crouched together on the bank
and combed the creatures
from each other’s hair.
I found a bright one
swinging from your ear.
You pulled a leech out of
my pocket and pressed it
in your hand until it clamped
into your fist and bled.
Yes, you cupped my love
between your fingers.
You held it in your palm
and watched it dance
with a small quick pulse
across your hand.
And you held it in your palm
until it blistered.