Ellen Kort

1936 - 2015

In 2016 the City of Appleton will dedicate Ellen Kort poems in the sidewalks throughout the city. Read more here.

Ellen Kort was Wisconsin's first Poet Laureate, serving from 2000-2004. She is the author of 11 books and 8 collections of poetry. Ellen's work has been featured in a variety of anthologies and incorporated architecturally in downtown Milwaukee's Midwest Express Center, the Green Bay Botanical Gardens and the Fox River Mall.  Ms. Kort's poetry has been performed by the New York City Dance Theatre and recorded on audio by Ellen Burstyn, Ed Asner and Alfre Woodard. Ellen uses her skills as a poet and teacher to reach out to the community in numerous ways, teaching at local universities and schools and conducting writing workshops for at-risk teens, nurses, physicians and for survivors of cancer, AIDS and domestic abuse. Ellen has been a guest on Wisconsin and National Public Radio and has traveled widely as a poet, speaker, and poetry workshop facilitator throughout the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, the Bahamas, and Japan.


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

© 2015 Ellen Kort

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

© 2015 Ellen Kort