Wednesday, 19 February 2014


“Gender is between your ears and not between your legs.” - Chaz Bono
Poetry Jam this week has invited participants in the creative writing challenge to write “an Olympian poem”. I have chosen the definition of “Olympian” that pertains to the ancient Greek deities that resided on Mount Olympus. The poem does have a twist, though…
Hubris, Apollo will most mercilessly punish,
And the wretch Marsyas was flayed for it.
The haughty Olympian would not stand
To hear another note of the accursed reed’s shrill melody,
Even if the playing were the most accomplished.
The sweet-tempered lyre was too feeble, too sedate,
To compete with the brilliance of the woodwind
And the angered god, slighted, skinned the better player.
My pale smooth skin is offensive to my soul,
A violation of my mind’s image of the body it should inhabit.
The hairless breasts, the rounded curves, the full red lips
Beautiful, yet unsuited to my mannish brain that would brawn.
Virile Apollo incarnated was in woman’s flesh
And lyre she plucks placidly with polished nails.
A brash Marsyas within the heart that aches to play,
And so as to right the centuries of wrong,
Compels the sharpened nails to flay herself
In order to reveal the true self that hides within:
A strident march more attuned to his shrill notes
Than the short-shrift notes of her gentler lyre.
I was an egg, so full of promise, that hatched into a vile larva;
The only remedy, a chrysalis carrying within it promise of butterfly.
In Greek mythology, the satyr Marsyas (Ancient Greek: Μαρσύας) picked up the double flute (aulos) that had been abandoned by Athena and played it. He became so adept at it that he challenged Apollo (the god of light, art and music and lyre player) to a contest of music. Marsyas lost the contest against the Olympian and Apollo flayed Marsyas alive. In Antiquity, literary sources often emphasise the hubris of Marsyas and the justice of his punishment.
Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) or gender expression not matching one’s assigned sex (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex). Transgender is independent of sexual orientation; transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual; some may consider conventional sexual orientation labels inadequate or inapplicable to them.
The painting above is Jusepe de Ribera’s (1591-1652) “Apollo Flaying Marsyas”.


  1. Such vividness throughout... we all have the chance to blossom into butterflies... oh, and I really appreciate the footnote.

  2. This is dark and intense poem, Nicholas. I like the way you have linked the mythology with the issue of gender identity. Marsyas as the masculine element and Apollo as the ambivalent one. The quote by Chaz Bono also added to the piece...

  3. This is a myth I am not familiar with and I enjoyed your telling of it here. Quite a wild place that Olympus of myth! I like the twists as well.

  4. Vivid portrait that has real dark passion, made me shiver but got me interested. Well done.

  5. Nicely done..thanks for sharing

  6. Like Peggy, this is not a story I had been familiar with. An interesting approach.

  7. Your poem is a strong reminder of how frightening it must be to feel you were born into the wrong body.

  8. Deep and harrowing, your poem melds the theme of hubris with that of a mistake of nature. I also like the way you have identified the two instruments with the two genders. Great!

  9. Mythology has always inspired me, excellent vivid write

  10. Nice write! We all deserve to be the humans we were meant to be, though for some the journey is a difficult one.

  11. This is an intense and very melancholy poem. It describes well the angst of those who suffer from gender issues.

  12. I feel as if I have been born on the wrong planet. However I am not going to dress up as a Martian because it wont really solve the problem. Dr Frankenstein's mutilation and hormone treatment is not the answer.

  13. Having had a member of the family undergo gender reassignment surgery, this poem really hit a sore spot. When we had to deal with a miserable young man whose every single thought gravitated around the body he felt trapped in, surgery and hormone treatment was something that provided a solution. We now have a happy young woman who lives a more or less normal life. This is preferable to the option of suicide, which was a very real and to us unacceptable option. Thank you for considering the plight of these tortured human souls.

  14. So many lessons here - mythology, art history, and a lesson on being true to yourself.