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The Flaying of Marsyas
It’s said the Muses judged the contest –
that they were pleased by Apollo’s superior craft.
His ability to lift the pelt in a single stroke
was greatly lauded. ‘See how beautiful the work,
clean as the average man would skin an orange!’
they remarked among themselves. ‘Not even a wound
disturbs his fearful symmetry.’ Meanwhile Marsyas
lay on, his life force startlingly undiminished,
limbs gesturing in disbelieving contract
with the world. ‘This for a stupid pipe,’ he roared,
for Marsyas, Ovid relates, possessed the gift
of consciousness: ‘for this they cleave me from myself!’
But nobody beyond the forest heard his cries,
and Marsyas’s body, reverting now to the status
of a brute, dumb animal, went on in hopeful
disbelieving, heart thumping away in the blue furnace
of itself, lungs fighting leafy crusts (an organ,
so anatomists tell us, so wonderfully porous
it survives in the transfer from a body to another body),
tears stinging his flittered cheeks, for a full
half turning of the sundial before darkness came
upon him, and he curled into position like a dog.