by Jenna Le

Marsyas: was he a faun? a satyr?
From our vantage point, centuries later,
his ethnic background doesn’t matter;
what counts is, he was brutally slain.
Vietnamese or Jewish, satyr or faun,
no one lives this kind of horror down.

A gentle outdoors-loving musician,
he was killed in the open, in a Phrygian
forest. With surgical precision,
his murderer peeled his skin off in thin strips
while Marsyas howled through whitened lips.
All day: his howls and the cracks of whips.

Each morning, I show up at my job,
wearing like a fancy watch-fob
my stethoscope. At times, I’d like to drop
the heavy thing on the ground and sputter,
“Apollo, patron god of doctors,
deity to whom we pray, ‘Save us from slaughter,

protect us from disease’! How could you
be he to whom we pray for tidings good, you
who tortured Marsyas in the Phrygian wood?
How could you cause such suffering?
And what’s your planned penitential offering?
Remorse is nothing; sunbeams are nothing.”

SOURCE: “Marsyas” by Jenna Le was previously published in Raintown Review (Vol. 10 Issue 1, 2011) as well as in the author’s book Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011).

IMAGE: “The Contest Between Apollo and Marsyas” by Tintoretto (1545).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem in a single sitting in the dingy library at Flushing Hospital Medical Center, where I worked as an intern physician. The poem’s descriptions of the faun Marsyas being skinned alive by the vengeful Greek god Apollo owe something to my memories of skinning a cadaver in the anatomy lab as a first-year medical student at Columbia.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenna Le is the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), which was a Small Press Poetry Bestseller. Her poetry, fiction, essays, book criticism, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Bellevue Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Measure, Pleiades, and 32 Poems. She was born and raised in Minnesota.