By | 1 November 2015

Between a rust-rot mailboat and the skeletons of textile factories
the boy Rodin
floats in the cold shallows of the Aude’s mudflats with the current,
dodging leeches

while men do the wash. There are cattle on the sand beneath the wheeze
of seagulls. Home,
firing the sootcoated kettle, his mother checks him, and in the scalp
of dark hair one little witch

marooned, slick and sucking. Mother fumbling at it, a concentration-vein
like a taproot in her forehead pulsing,
crumbs of light through the window, the smack of spades in the distance.

~~~ ~~~

The first sangsue: immigrant witches at the wound – Gypsy, Jew or Dago combing
neatly the hair of small
pale children before concussing and boiling them. Or simply bog women
leech-trafficking in nearby

villages. In each peasant house, beside purple cabbage and aromatic onions, a glass
in the window where the beasts
were kept. And second, the Cardinal of Lorraine, drawing undue profit
from his many offices

in the corporate body of Christ, conducted the St. Bartholomew’s Day
massacre. Sanitation
was the Queen’s concern, so the bodies were sold back to families for burial,
or wheeled in carts over the berry- blackened

streets to the Seine, weighted and lost to shadows that moved. Years on,
Parisians still drank from the river
as Gideon’s men, skimming the surface with a bowl, or lapping the water, as
dogs, who like Jehovah

are more sanitary than magical, for the springs and streams of Palestine
abounded in leeches,
which when swallowed stuck in the throat, causing hemorrhaging.

~~~ ~~~

Not an unbroken piece of furniture in the house, Buñuel kneels at his desk,
where he put his head
down, the blue capillaries under skin as thin as rice paper, with the hard-focused
eyes of a man

one week at the bottom of a lake. Boils, jaundice, grippe; bread and potatoes
for days. He writes
a friend from the toilet, “I was so depressed last night that I would have
put my head in the gas oven,

if I wasn’t too frightened of the children to go into the kitchen. All of this because
of a sebaceous cyst in my armpit,
which happily, the doctor has just drained with his little ‘assistants’.”

~~~ ~~~

Da Vinci was so mesmerized by the rippling of leeches propelling themselves
through water—like Papal
streamers in strong winds—that he sketched them in red chalk, trying to capture
their motion (the fastest swimmers

are the hungriest) for his friend Luca Borgia who died having an aneurism under
a blind moon,
whose body was dragged by French infantryman, still flushed from a bog
and left, covered

in small black flags that wilted the man, and when fat on him dropped lazily away.

~~~ ~~~

Lille’s old executioner-cum-doctor, dwarf-faced and neck-wrinkled
now sucks the blood
from a street boy’s wrist with professorial reserve while his men keep the kid
from screaming.

Years before, ridding the city of its voyeurs of dog copulation
and mockers of rats and monkeys,
he watched as epileptics bucked beneath the scaffold at executions,
slavering to catch

enough still-warm blood for a cure – the sticky stuff rilling
over their pates and paunch.

~~~ ~~~

Though they feel pain, and are terrified by the idea, sufferers of Lesch-Nyhan
syndrome are uncontrollably
driven to tear and bite away parts of themselves. While a man’s wife turned
her back to wash

the mulch from her calves, he moved from a staring at photo of a worker
dangling precariously
from a water tower, to picking his ear, to biting the tip of his right ring-finger
off. Like children, with their

mania for taking out dolls’ eyes to see what’s behind them. Later, doctors
placed maggots
on the necrotic flesh of infected wounds.

~~~ ~~~

Ut beattitudo illis magis complaceat – Aquinas promised the blessed a gift:
a vision: the agonies
of the damned; at ten Antonioni began building puppets and model sets
for them. An adult,

he wanted to make a documentary about the local mental hospital in the antique
and silent town
of Ferrara. The patients—sanguisuga, the orderlies called them—helped him set up
the equipment. Then

he turned on the floodlights. “They went berserk,” he wrote, “and their faces—
which had been
absent—became convulsed and devastated. It was the director of the asylum
who finally yelled

to stop. And in the dark we felt a swarm of bodies like muddrifts taking our legs.”

~~~ ~~~

Prescribed for everything from obesity to nymphomania, Rodin
was treated
for stroke with six plump leeches clinched to his face. A child, he broke a jar
of them, and for nights

lay awake imagining the parasites crawling his length, half expecting to wake
to the floors under water,
to sheets drenched, by himself, if not by the work of “the fat red and black
bâtard.” Now, even

on his deathbed he has the blush of a consumptive, fresh from a cloakroom
fuck. Afraid to be alone,
he is “visited” by sangsue – the physician brings them in a moist velvet-lined
medical bag. So, companions

for fifty years and soon to be wed, Rose Beuret sits beside the difficult and palsied
artist who confides in a stupor,
that his first desire was to be a horse, a bowl of additional leeches in her lap
in case of a second stroke.

Near death, he pleads to have them removed; they are hanging from his nose
and slipping
into his mouth as le cheval gallops into the migraine-darkened afterlife
with the breath of loosened soil.

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