Nurses – Ellen Austin-Li

Nurse bees are a special breed of workers
hatched by some unknown alchemy
into nurturing roles. They feed the needy
bees’ bread, honey and pollen mixed
with royal jelly secreted by their own bodies.
Nurses visit often, examine
larvae deprived of food, give more
to those who signal the most distress.

Nurse sisters. Duty-bound by nature
to sweeten even futile feedings, we
dripped water with a straw through parched lips,
blew on father’s face to coax a swallow,
inspected skin for breakdown. Turn, turn, turn—
we held hands, listened for breath’s dying gasp.

Ellen Austin-Li’s work has appeared in Artemis, Thimble Literary Magazine, The Maine Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Rust + Moth, and other places. A Best of the Net nominee, she’s published two chapbooks with Finishing Line Press: Firefly and Lockdown: Scenes From Early in the Pandemic. She earned an MFA in Poetry at the Solstice Low-Residency Program. Ellen lives with her beekeeper husband in a newly empty nest, overrun with books, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Find her work @

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