Ellen Austin-Li is an award-winning poet published in Artemis, Writers Tribe Review, The Maine Review, Mothers Always Write, Memoir Mixtapes, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and other places. Her first poetry chapbook, Firefly, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Ellen is an active participant at Women Writing for a Change in Cincinnati and has studied poetry in multiple regional workshops, including several at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two sons.
Rendezvous at Round Lake
By Ellen Austin-Li
Carved by an ancient glacier,
its meromictic waters do not mix—
this is the place we go
where layers of sediment stratify in ribbons.
Meromictic waters do not mix;
within my childhood home, chilled
layers of sediment remain stratified in ribbons,
blue-green fingers stretch across the surface.
When I am chilled inside my childhood home,
I call for my golden friend,
fingers stretch across the blue-green surface,
warmer than my own blood.
I call my friend of gold
to the place we go —
warmer than our blood,
we are carved ancient as a glacier.
Amends to My Father, 1941
By Ellen Austin-Li
In this photo, father stood on a lush front lawn,
a grand Tudor in the distance. His hair was full, leafed-out
like the maples framing him, their limbs wind-tossed,
his hair blown-back from his forehead. This was before
medical school, his brow unlined, clear eyes looking
beyond the lens, not yet hidden behind the glasses
years of study would bring.
This was before he sat beside mother
in theology class, before they chose wedding bands,
before the children started coming, one
after the other, six children in eight years. This was before
he worked twelve-hour stints in the hospital, before
his sick patients devoured him, before his name
was a sweetness melting on his family’s tongue.
This was before one daughter ducked behind tombstones
in the cemetery up the street, passed bottles of Boone’s Farm
Strawberry Hill, stuffed her bed at night and slithered
down a tree, before she pushed the car in neutral
and sped away, before she blacked-out, before
she almost OD’d on pills, before she crashed
and shattered her boyfriend’s vertebrae, before spilled blood
filled her, before three days unconscious, before
nurses propped that broken bird in a chair, before father
had to turn away as her head bobbed down to her chest.
This was before that daughter slapped his Catholic faith,
fled the country, shacked-up in a foreigner’s flat,
before she boomeranged back, punched him
again with the sin of divorce.
This was sixty-three years before she broke
from the bottle, before she stretched
across six hundred miles, three times a year,
to clasp his wasted hand while they walked.
This was before Alzheimer’s stole
his fine mind, before blank spaces
intruded on their renewed bond—our bond,
Dad, this was seventy-five years before I lost you.
Thawing with Frost
By Ellen Austin-Li
We are becoming better acquainted
here in the woods, where I walk
with my own shadowy November guest.
The colors of October have muted brown,
bare branches become their own beauty.
Icicles hang like sharp crystal teeth
from sandstone lips, at once threatening,
then whimsical popsicle in the hand of a young girl.
I hike to Old Man’s Cave; a panoramic from inside
looks like an eye open
to the world. Teenagers teargas silence
with echoes of rock
blasting nature’s cathedral. I wished
they hadn’t come in; I’m sure
they hadn’t been invited. But
Eastern Hemlocks stand, unbowed
birches willing to let all of us pass.
Twilight’s silver pulls me
out of the gorge, numb fingers
curled-up inside my gloves.
My aged anthology and I
sink without qualms
into the steaming claw foot tub
pedestaled at the B & B
on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Frozen fingers and toes thaw
in the company of Frost, who
may or may not condone my use
of a highlighter on his verse.
I study as I soak, eucalyptus rising.
I sneak to the street
and blow smoke into frigid air.
In midnight’s pitch, the only soul
who sees, besides me,
is a cat silhouetted in a window
across the way. I know he won’t tell
my secret; he’s discreet. He’s another
acquainted with the night.