Tribute to Ellen Kort, First Wisconsin Poet Laureate, & Three poems by Ellen Kort

Guest Edited by Fabu

When you look at Ellen Kort’s extensive biography, you read about an accomplished poet who has shared her work world-wide.  Her bio is the mere bones of Ellen, and to know her really is to experience the warm flesh of her poetry. Ellen Kort is truly loved by all of us who have written these poems of tribute. We appreciate our kind meetings, her life affirming words and steadfast encouragement to continue with poetry. I thank the Editors of Verse Wisconsin for the opportunity to return to Ellen a little bit of the honor that she has always shown me and my work.—Fabu

A Poem About Ellen Kort

Gentleness floats in circles
around her spirit.
Kindness wets her mouth
to comfort, yet challenge
with words.

Ellen saw me and smiled
shared her poetry about
our Wisconsin.
I have loved her from then
until now.

—Fabu, Madison, WI

Forty-three poems by forty-three poets are included in the current print issue of Verse Wisconsin as a “Tribute to Ellen Kort.” We are also pleased to publish two new poems by Kort in this issue and reprint a favorite of the contributors.

The Long Continuous Line

When eating fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.—Vietnamese Proverb

When I was nine my grandpa gave me an apple tree
in his orchard   This one is yours he said
It breathes the same air as you and me   Every time
you touch a tree you become part of the story of the earth
I didn’t know what it meant to own a tree

There was something overwhelming about a gift
that belonged to the earth   but I loved that tree
and the past into which it has gone   The nurturing
fragrance of apple blossoms   bees wild with delight
my touch-and-know of branches blessed by wind
and rain    moon and sun   My tree   My very own tree
giving its fruit without me even asking    Grandpa
and me sitting in the grass   leaning against my tree
listening to the rustling murmur of leaves   watching
a flock of geese measuring the sky   distant sounds
that could be words   I loved the quiet unfolding
between us    each of us taking a bite into the sweet
sacrament of an apple   its tight red skin
hugging a generous white heart   and tucked inside
a little star-house of seeds   The only smell better than
those first white blossoms was the autumn tumble
of windfalls    the warm smell of pie baking
in grandma’s oven and applesauce spiced with cinnamon
I knew that tree   the whole taste of it   and all of its
luminous gifts like seeds in my pocket   So much gets
lost in the echoes and loneliness of memory
our hunger for roots   our need for steadiness    the promise
of tomorrow   Even now when I hold the round red
universe of an apple in the palm of my hand   I can still
lean against that apple tree and the man who planted it


The Stream of Life

To be great, art has to point somewhere.—Anne Lamott

Point and shoot is what I told my sons
when they were little   Lift the lid
and they did   circling it in rhythmic yellow
One floated a toy plastic boat in the toilet ocean
a perfect aim could make it spin   One tried
writing his name on the wall   stopping
and starting in a valiant attempt to dot the I
I caught them peeing yellow rivers in their sandbox
watering my flowers   the oak tree in the backyard

My Uncle Pete said some of the best conversations
he ever had   some of the best business deals
he ever made took place while standing in front
of a urinal   He liked the simple sense of truth
the zipping up   the closure   the handshake

I dressed as a man once for a Halloween party
Trench coat   hat and shoes from Goodwill
a Richard Nixon mask and one cut-off leg of pantyhose
stuffed and sewed to the front of a pair of trousers
After the party   we went to a bar and my friends
dared me to go into the men’s restroom   I took the dare
I pictured all the men I’ve ever known standing
in front of those urinals   Mr. Success and his perfect aim
full stream ahead   The jokester who talks non-stop
I stayed long enough to read the carefully printed sign
above the row of urinals
Please do not splash
The guy next to you might be barefoot


If Death Were a Woman

I’d want her to come for me
smelling of cinnamon   wearing
bright cotton  purple maybe  hot
pink  a red bandana in her hair
She’d bring good coffee  papaya juice
bouquet of sea grass  saltine crackers
and a lottery ticket  We’d dip
our fingers into moist pouches
of lady’s slippers  crouch down to see
how cabbages feel when wind bumps
against them in the garden
We’d walk through Martin’s woods

find the old house  its crumbling
foundation strung with honeysuckle
and in the front yard  a surprise 
jonquils  turning the air yellow
glistening and ripe  still blooming
for a gardener long gone  We’d head
for the beach  wearing strings of shells
around our left ankles  laugh

at their ticking sounds the measured
beat that comes with dancing
on hard-packed sand  the applause
of ocean and gulls  She’d play
ocarina songs to a moon almost full
and I’d sing off-key We’d glide
and swoop  become confetti of leaf fall
all wings  floating on small whirlwinds
never once dreading the heart
silenced drop  And when it was time
she would not bathe me  Instead
we’d scrub the porch  pour leftover
water on flowers  stand a long time
in sun and silence then  holding hands
we’d pose for pictures in the last light

from If Death Were a Woman (1994)

—Ellen Kort, Appleton, WI