Two Poems by Ellen Austin-Li

Great-Great Grandmother: A Fiction

 In the worst hour of the worst season of the worst year of a whole people

  ~“Quarantine,” Eavan Boland 

To survive was a stone 

swallowed and grown

until hers was the granite 

sewn throughout the countryside.  

Hard, silent, cold. Her head, 

vertigo of hunger, her womb 

the warm core that carried 

her to shore. The ship strapped 

heavy with her empty. What family 

she left behind, some buried, 

some too hollow for that mercy. 

Mercy, her face turned to the sea 

spray, the wind she fights across 

the way. Woman on the Atlantic. I wish 


I could say brave before she went over 

the rail. At night, I see her floating 

until she lands. The sea floor is where 

she must be — when I wake, 

the sand weights me.


Consider the Seahorse

tail tethered to seaweed, anchored

on the harbor floor. Consider this fish alone

missing its other moor, the link

in a pair. Consider a horse tremoring 

in the field, how your friend once said

you were like this, too, barely held,

quavering in waves. Consider this sea

monster, diminutive yet holding fast,

open eyes surveilling you, a foal entwined

in grass. Ponder the hippocampus

embedded deep within the brain, how it swims

in the temporal lobe. Consider the construct

of time, how it is memory defined

even as it moves forward into fathoms

unknown. Consider the synapse

between senses and past, how the smell of salt

takes you to a familiar beach somewhere—

the hippocampus reigns this in our minds.

Ponder the delicate seahorse, spent

when seas get rough, its tiny middle fin 

gives out and they’re swept up. Consider

damage to the seahorse, the limbic border

between two worlds, as my hand fans flat 

against the sand, I study the currents unfurl.

photo by Suz Fleming

Ellen Austin-Li's work has appeared in Artemis, Thimble Literary Magazine, The Maine Review, Salamander, Rust + Moth, and other places. Finishing Line Press published her two chapbooks—Firefly (2019) and Lockdown: Scenes from Early in the Pandemic (2021). Recipient of the Martin B. Bernstein Fellowship, she earned an MFA in Poetry at the Solstice Low-Residency Program. Ellen co-founded the monthly reading series, "Poetry Night at Sitwell's," in Cincinnati, where she lives with her husband in a newly empty nest.