Apollo Boudreaux opened the rice paper parasol, his slender fingers running the length of the bamboo handle. The quick flourish was not unlike a magician’s gesture, his trick bringing the pretty thing to life—a tumble of cherry blossoms appearing from the seams. He lifted the delicate parasol to his shoulder, spinning the handle, passing it to Artemis, his twin sister.
“Enchantment awaits,” Apollo said, gathering up his skirt with one hand, grabbing Artemis’s hand with the other. Across the garden bridge they hurried, paying no mind to the koi or water lilies floating below. Nor did they hear the tumble and splash of water upon rock, both of them made deaf from the scamper of their hearts.
“Is this the way to Elysian?” Artemis laughed, traversing the trailing hem of her best party frock, the lovely dress her brother now wore.
At the other side, beneath the golden fringe of a darkening sky, Apollo regarded his sister. “What a handsome figure you strike there buttoned up in my Sunday trousers.”
Artemis lifted the parasol, casting glance behind her. “Mother and Father will be home soon.”
In the dwindling light, Apollo turned melancholy. “How hard it is to live in a desperate, handful of hours.”
“When else are we to set the world right?” Artemis said, touching Apollo’s pale, hairless arm. “Not in all those other grim hours.” She kissed her brother’s painted cheek. “They are but illusion,” she whispered. “This, my dear brother. Only these moments are true.”
Apollo grabbed hold of his sister, looping an arm through hers, leading her to a clearing just short of the forest to a drape of lotus leaves where three paper lanterns lay. “My gift to you,” he said with a sweep of lanky arm. “Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.”
“How glorious,” she said, closing the parasol, her lovely eyes turning glossy with tears. “That we should set them adrift before the world turns dark.”
Together, Artemis and Apollo lit the candles then turned the lanterns loose. Above the trees they shimmered and pulsed. “Shall we follow?” Apollo said, pointing an elegant finger. “Just a short way beyond the rustle of the great Whispering Oak?”
Through bramble, across the creek, along the edge of the odiferous swamp, Apollo and Artemis delighted, glimpsing the flickering Fates between branch and quivering leaf.
Clear through until morning they rove, until the forest gave out. Until late afternoon sky dulled the lanterns’ glow. Until they heard voices beyond the Japanese maple across a sprawling boxwood maze.
Talk to him, they heard the voices say.
Artemis regarded the creeping shadow of her brother’s beard. “Our desperate hours are spent,” she said. “There is no place for us here.”
“Only sorrow remains,” Apollo whispered, gloom turning his squared jaw slack. “Forgiveness and understanding. They have turned to husk.” He took up the parasol from his sweet sister’s trembling hand and cast the trick again. Cherry blossoms appeared in the swell of movement and crackle of red waxen paper.
Above them, a terrible commotion ensued. A cacophony of rip and tear. In an explosion of paper and feather, the lanterns transformed.
Clotho: a drove of raven.
Lachesis: a flock of oil-winged crows.
And Atropos: a sweeping, red-shouldered hawk.
Upon the sky, the frantic flap of wing spread bruises, leaving the Boudreaux’s to shiver. Across the way, beyond the maze, they watched a man remove his shirt.
Talk to him.
“Our luck won’t last long here,” Apollo said.
“Then let’s go home.”
- Robert Gwaltney
The Wisdom of Sword & Shadow: Lao Tzu to Cowboy Blue
Afternoon colors smear, and day settles on Sword & Shadow’s shoulders. He leans into the shade of a Japanese maple and fixes his eyes on ravens chasing a hawk. A band of smaller, throaty crows needle the bigger bird of prey.
“Talk to him.” Father Hammer asked more than commanded.
Sword & Shadow watched the winged battle above him until the melee disappeared into tall trees. Ten feet behind him, Father Hammer sat in a straight back chair on the front porch.
“Blue isn’t listening.” Sword & Shadow answered.
“Talk to him.” Father Hammer commanded more than asked.
The liturgy of Louisiana isn’t lost
on Sword & Shadow. Nobility, inglorious,
pendragons drop death in a swamp.
A love lost in a far-flung state
poorly furnishes the room.
Almond eyes look from
somber sockets. No lack-of-a-fight
is long around Blue.
Sword & Shadow says,
“There is no wisdom through osmosis, Blue.”
The samurai smells of sage
and pulls at a thread
on his sleeve:
is your white whale.”
“It’s amoral arithmetic;
death from slow rage.”
Sword & Shadow keeps his voice low,
“But no one
walks with a man
to this godless place
unaware the journey
corrupts his mind, his space.”
Sword & Shadow, not left hollow from his formative years.
The vitality of cruelty did not shape
the samurai’s sweet surrender into
the work clothes of red splendor.
Blue’s life is a pulpy mess.
Sword & Shadow’s wisdom remains unscathed.
Blue consorts with Sword & Shadow
for the counsel,
and the silent way in which he kills.
The samurai, from the sin-eating Order,
his womb the rolled-open tomb
from Jesus to Blue’s future.
Sword & Shadow’s association
to Blue postpones murders, remolds
them into the mayhem of legal,
or at least understandable,
death. The same age as the cowboy,
the samurai has old hands into.
What maintains these highwaymen
is an amulet, not blessings
or good tidings heaven-sent.
Their way, a cavern clean but rarely haunted
by decent people.
Cowboy Blue Crawford, a Faberge egg
stolen from Tesla’s estate,
here to pay homage
in New Orleans. Took the back door
since Hell hid its front door deep.
Hades bricked it up
after Orpheus failed.
Before a vowel can be sounded,
Sword & Shadow states,
“Blue, your white whale requires you to sell
more civility than a man
can afford to extend.
Stand down, now.”
“Crawford, come now.
Luck doesn’t last long.
This insistence thins your thread
affixed to the Fates.
Miss Dixie is the sad end of a desperate imagination.
It is obvious. Go see the Owl.
Your howling is hard for us to love.
Stop being a bitch for Gabriel’s horn.
Let’s go home.”