The satyr Marsyas was skinned alive after losing a musical contest with Apollo. Punished for his ambition, Marsyas, in some versions of the story, was the true winner.
The dog violet, pressing a flat ear to the ground,
has news of great importance:
it is spring
and jealousy turns its blade again.
First a prick at the neck and another nick and then
Marsyas’s eyelids are peeled
so he can’t help but see as
they flay the fur off him
and pull down the map of his body
and curry his skin into
a canal. Steam hisses off the oiled husks of him.
What do the executioners expect to find,
unwrapping their prize?
His executioners take their time slitting his groin,
calling him a woman and laughing,
as if they own forever what he can never be again.
His blood rains into the storm-blue eye of the violet.
They work at his thighs until the flesh
slides to his ankles like a stocking.
His hooves dance in the sloughed off rind.
There are jokes. I’m sure of it.
Even as the onrush from what’s loosened gives,
as if a musician must be
poured from a kettle, but first
scraped into paste,
oh he’s bled—he’s dressed like a doe in a shed—
and saddles of his own skin surround him.
Thus, the satyr became human,
as did his torturers,
as did music.
Every spring the dog violet shrinks closer to the earth,
once again washed in the memory the thundercloud
of Marsyas’s body made,
and so the violet turns humble,
spreading its kind across the grounds to escape
the punishment for making beauty that
humiliates a power
that won’t be humbled.
Skinless, to be human,
to break membranes,
fear wiping its hands over your eyes,
and now so many silences:
those we can’t hear
and those we try not to hear
and those beneath
In some myths,
a reed or laurel or blossom
fills to the brim with a soul.
In this story silence pours into silence,
and silence turns into music made of silence—
What will hold the dog violets back this year?
A scout has broken from the ranks.
The leaves flicker with Marsyas.
He was an animal, like us.
The extinct, those that no longer
bend down the grasses
or the tree tops or
curl in a wave
or draw their roots into the soil—
Marsyas and his kind are extinct.
Apollo is extinct.
Beside the limestone quarries the cry violets
lifted their lavender-colored faces:
the cry violets are extinct.
The earthly music of the extinct,
those wild beings skimmed off the earth,
the blade so thin
and the scald—
in the encyclopedia of the extinct,
and in human music, that silence.
The satyr’s skin drying, tacked to a pine:
the tattery flag of the extinct.
He was not our savior, not a traitor either.
We can only try to imagine Marsyas’s music,
We are his skin now,
his animals, his herd.
the wound in the dog violet,
the stillness there,
as if whatever living thing that lives in silence
witnesses how living skin
wild with misery.
It is always happening:
the persistence of torture,
the extinguished music,
the ones made strange to us
skimmed from the earth.
The grass turns gray,
the decayed trees creak like wicker.
to admire their work.
across a tender body, a body
made infinitely more tender
the heart still beating.
Some traditions hate us.
What do we call
those who went ahead,
our scouts, the extinct?
They didn’t ask to be named.
Now we know them only as words.
Marsyas, revolutionary, belongs to us and the other animals.
The animals of ourselves listen for his flaying,
even now the blade pressing up against
every shape his mouth makes.
A thousand traps cannot snare the spring,
or close his raining eyes,
or stop the wind through the pines where he’s howling.