The God and the goat, by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Apollo and Marsyas

 Go. Go before I change my mind,
 Is all He would have thought, and said,
 If not for the great glee He heard
 In how Marsyas gripped and played
 The thin, twig-tied pipes for the Lord
 Of Light, Prince of Gods, Apollo,
 The Core Verse incarnate, Father
 And Avenger of Troilus.
 Bonheur blared from the spit-soaked wood
 As his left hind leg and hoof stomped
 Out one impossible measure
 After another as, unsure
 Of what we were hearing, we hid
 And half-watched, half-blinded by His
 Half-presence, from a safe distance.
 How happy do you have to be
 Before the gods come to stoke and
 Then smother it? Poor Marsyas.
 Thirty-seven summers ago, when
 This bower itself was still young 
 And on trial, He descended—
 Sunluxed, blessed, and blessing with Dawn.
 He cooed into the kid’s flared ear.
 That was all it took, and was. Air.
 Air from the Harbinger of Song.
 A gift: until he offended
 Great Apollo, boasting, “I can play
 Almost as well as Great Apollo.”
 But he couldn’t. And he didn’t.
 And Great Apollo took his prize.
 He toyed Marsyas to tinsel,
 Then hung his stripped skin from a tree,
 And said, I am Apollo: the Power
 And Glory and First Song. Burn this bower.
 Burn it down—. Then, scribe, write well of me.

The God and the goat

 And then the goat said to the God,
 Deliver me my skin. And He
 Did. Then the goat said to the God,
 Anoint me in my skin again.
 —And He did. Then the goat said
 To the God, Seal me in my skin.
 And He did—. He salved the seams. 
 And subtled him. And Himself, too.
 Call it unrecognizable
 Weather: boiling snow sidling
 Gilt cloudbanks; a beetle-back sky;
 Nacre-gnarled écorchés of ought
 And nought air; all caught in the thought
 That we were the God and the goat,
 Once strangers, now just strange, and bound
 By the songs of Heaven and wound
 That wing out from our one shared throat.

Apollo: season three

 In the span of a summer I grew half a foot.
 My feet grew, too. My mind learned delicious.
 The ground leaned against a deciduous forest.
 First I called it tree. Then I called it delicious.
 Delicious said, “Tell Shaggy, Fred, Thelma, and Scoob
 To come find me. My name is Daphne.”
 But I broke Daphne’s arm instead.
 It was a cruelty I first tried to blame on nature.
 Then on growing up, on falling off, on it being
 Just an old myth. But the world would have none of it
 And cancelled me after season three. 
 Say it straight, say it straight, the crickets chanted.
 Change your name, change your name, the arroba urged.
 But the great god of poetry was at a loss for words
 And fell back into his habit of speaking in the third person.
 He’s always trended more accessible this way. 

Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. “Apollo and Marsyas” and “The God and the Goat” from HEAVEN: POEMS by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Copyright © 2015 by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. “Apollo: Season Three” from THE GROUND by Rowan Richard Phillips. Copyright © 2012 by Rowan Ricardo Phillips.

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A detail from an etching of Apollo and Marsyas by Stefano della Bella, 1644. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 18.48.2-3.