Special Exhibit (at Ragnar Kjartansson’s Video Installation, “The Visitors”) — Ellen Austin-Li

I have been on a string of so many days
hung low. The truth is I am
often tired of being alive, of daylight
streaming through the translucent glass
of my body, my virgin rebirth, discarded
diamonds. I am the water in fountains
people dance past.

These days weave together
on a loom, an unfinished tapestry
with a repeating pattern: spoiled wool,
dank, with rare flashes of gold.
The truth is I am often tired
of being alive, though I know this mantle
can unravel with a pull on a thread.

I trudged up concrete steps
into the Art Museum, muscles sobbing
with repetition, this desire to rise
above the carved marble of my heart
pushing me inside another air-conditioned
hallway, where winged statuaries ushered
me up, up, up, hushed

into the darkened gallery. Shush,
whispered metal brush on cymbals,
the drummer on one screen of nine,
each in a room of a ramshackle mansion,
alone. I sit, as I am
weary of living; then, the banjo
is played with a bow, piano strings

plucked, a baby doll voice
coos me out of myself. A lone musician
in each video plays their own part:
a cello swallows a little bird, she disappears
behind her instrument, but her voice
still flies in the space beside her,
cigar smoke curls above a baby grand.

A sunken scar extends like a headband
across a bony black man’s bald —
I know his skull was once lifted,
something removed, like the melancholy tumor
fixed in my brain. I get tired of living,
though I know I’m not supposed to feel this
way, I’m not allowed to say it.

A ginger beard in a bathtub strums
guitar and leads the lyric, a poem
set to melody, looped like every day,
restarted at the end of the last.
A cannon explodes on crescendo,
draws a crowd towards the scene;
I know beauty will repeat if I stay.

I am the naked girl lying on her side,
back to the camera, sculpted scapulae
in repose. Distant harmonies stir her.
By the end, she awakens
and pulls on a satin slip, moved
to get out of bed, to stand,
to join with the others again.


Ellen Austin-Li is an award-winning poet who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. An active participant in Women Writing for a Change, she has been published in Artemis, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, L.A. Writers Tribe Review, the Maine Review, Mothers Always Write, and Memoir Mixtapes, among other places. Her first chapbook, Firefly, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.