• By Yiu-On Li (he/him)
  • Art “Shiny” by Yiu-On Li (he/him)

Words make nothing happen. They can’t stop a 9mm. They can’t pay your PG&E. They can’t cure stage IV in your grandma. They can’t make your parents proud. Auden and Yeats are ▲d. We follow in due course, soldiers marching into the ▲ in search of glory and kingdom. But your torch flickers, and it whispers tomorrow, and then there is just the ▲ and the stage IV.

She doesn’t remember changing your diapers.

Hoofbeats clatter outside along cobblestone streets in the gray sky where the sun rises and sets at precisely the same place. But the place is not precise; the place changes. These men—and they are always men—of metal and green spaghetti ride into view, and the peasants bow to their new lords. Four they are, but they are more than four.

Inside, your grandma’s cherry lipstick stands out from her eighty-pound frame. Her photos are gateways to universes where you are not this old, where you are not this gray, where Auden and Yeats do not ▲ so soon. Taken by maladies, they were. Jesters please the king and all is well. The court is cheered. The horsemen are waylaid to Wanning Street, where they will stay and circle the battlements until our revels now are ▲d and the jesters can no longer please and the horsemen demand their audience.

You reside in a court of fools. Merry fools, so many and so merry to look upon. They don’t know this court is rot, that its beams are rot, that the gum and duct tape and magic that hold it all together are all ▲. They don’t know that the windows have shattered and that the only reason they have yet to be ▲d is because a delicate time dilation spell has limited the damage to falling shards that have yet to clear the third story. But if you look up, if you look closely, you can just make out the faint traces of blood, of generations of chronomancers laid to ▲ in perfect slow motion.

Whereupon it becomes necessary to evacuate. Knights know when the battle is lost, when retreat is merely tactical victory. Quick, grab the gateways. But the gateways are sun-bleached and yellowed and curled, and their magic is not what it used to be. The decline of ages. And yet evacuation, in one form or another.

You turn to incantation. WWW by Yiu-On Li, and mountains rise. ART // YIU-ON LI, and marigolds bloom. Streams of CMYK(50, 0, 0, 100) run through fields of 42p0 by 54p0, through gutters of 0p9, past vernacular shackles and professional minions and sevenfold tracks.

But voice ▲s like any other object, like any other subject. It unravels, sputters, spatters in the air. You wipe away the spittle. Mountains crumble, marigolds wilt, streams run dry.

When the gutters fill with leaves—when the chains bind again—when the tracks fade in freshly fallen snow—when riverbeds bare their sediment—when the horsemen charge through the gates—when the last chronomancer falls—when the shards twinkle on the floor—when you hide her—when you tell her you love her—when the spells cannot spell—when you say goodbye—when you board the plane—when you fly above the clouds—when you close your eyes—when you swallow dry cabin air—when they find her—when she closes her eyes—when the words run out—will tears fill these once-rich straits?

You reside in a court of fools. Washington and King, Lincoln and Lucille, Jack and Linda—idiots, all. Stardust becomes dust, and dust becomes words, and words become yet more dust. How they yammer, and how you sift through these leaves of dust, and how you believe there to be gold in that dust. How beautiful it is to believe. How beautiful it is to believe that words make nothing happen. ▲