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Tuesday, March 01, 2022


by Ellen Austin-Li

Newborn twin brothers sleep in a basement used as a bomb shelter at the Okhmadet children's hospital in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

A line from Yeats’ poem that reverberates
like a bass chord that becomes a strum,
combined with an image of babies 
kept alive in a bomb shelter, underground,
each breath bagged by ambu into tiny lungs.
This hum an undercurrent—under, under, under
my thumb. This rough beast lumbering, a ton,
a hundred years running, but truly thousands before, 
more’s the sum of history in a new poem—not new, 
but old. What crumbling humans, such endless war.
My hands weary as if I’m delivering each breath.
I know what this means—we cannot take a rest
or the children expire. I tire, but the poem is found.
The cannon, the fodder: explosions of sound. 

Ellen Austin-Li’s work has appeared in Artemis, Thimble Literary Magazine, The Maine Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Rust + Moth, and other places. Her two chapbooks were published by Finishing Line Press—Firefly (2019) and Lockdown: Scenes From Early in the Pandemic (2021). She is a Best of the Net nominee. A recipient of the Martin B. Bernstein Fellowship, she earned an MFA in Poetry at the Solstice Low-Residency Program. Ellen lives with her husband in a newly empty nest in Cincinnati, Ohio.