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Presidents are good-hearted naturalists; they don’t believe in unseen worlds parallel to our own. They are full of love for the people whose hands they shake, not the future with its invisible pleats, nor for distant wonderlands. Because of this fact, nothing is stranger or more beautiful than the companionship between shepherds and presidents: the shepherds do not have to believe; they know.

And nothing is more honest or more sacred than the heart of a shepherd. On this morning full of bluebells, a president emerges from a windswept helicopter where a shepherd sings an old hymn in the mountains. There is a secret Word which the president doesn’t know, and which nine Justices whisper in nine pieces to the shepherd. The shepherd seals this Word away forever in the heart and picks up a bright knife, attached by a resolute cord.

From that moment, the two are never apart. The shepherd tails the president, the bright knife swaying as they walk. They eat breakfast together in a fine-china room where the president murmurs over memoranda. When they look at one another, it is the way a deer and weary hunter see each other through the trees: there are two forests, two clouds full of breath, and a pale light stretches to cover both of them.

In time they grow a mild love, the way people love their coffee or their flag; it grows like a meadow in between, until the gulf seems beautiful. But despite good breeding, the president’s generosity is like a small, swinging lantern: when the gold-eater—patron saints—grow restless on the rooftops, the president feeds them in fingerfuls. In return, they send down plagues; their war-cries fill wavering hearts with smoke and arrogance.

The president hears them, too. On the worst days, the shepherd will hold the president’s quarrelsome face. This makes it easier to think of peace. The shepherd sings the old song about a people you can never see: like fairies, each one’s soul is a patchwork of many colors, most of them ugly, but one patch is always beautiful. The president loves this song even more than the smell of blood, and it is almost enough.

But not quite. One day, the president is too anguished for stories, too wild and enflamed for further invisibles. On that day, the president demands the Word. Because the shepherd cannot hand over the Word, the shepherd hands over the bright knife instead. In an instant, the president lunges for the red place in the shepherd where the Word lies buried, and uncovers it with the knife, and lifts it up, and shouts the Word. Shadows drop like birds in a place you can never see.

The next day, the winsome president is served breakfast in a room painted like fine china. There are memoranda on the table—proud words—but instead of eating or reading, today the president goes to lean on the balcony. The president searches for a way to remember.

There are many things you can never see, and presidents do not usually think of them. But when the president finally sings an old tune, it is carried aloft by an invisible wind.
Dylan Holmes
Published in Issue 39