Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Remembering Ellen Kort

This column first ran in May of 2010 in a week like this one, following the annual Midwest Crane Count. Ellen Kort died this morning. I hope she gets her wish.

Sandhill cranes lift poet to flights of fancy

How about starting your workday by getting a call from Wisconsin's first poet laureate? 

She says she enjoyed reading about the Midwest Crane Count and has something she wants me to hear. It's a poem about sandhills. It's a poem about how, when she dies, she wants to come back as a sandhill crane.

My computer is still booting up. My brain is trailing even farther behind. Then I am graced by lovely words from the trusted, calming voice of Ellen Kort.

"If there is faith at the appointed hour / if light breaks open and this time I get to choose / I will come back as a sandhill crane," she begins.

The poem is unpublished, so I will respect her right to choose when and how it sees print in its entirety.

While I have been writing most of my life, I am an unwashed cretin when it comes to poetry. I appreciate its imagery and its rhythm, but I know nothing about what it is supposed to do -- other than to touch the soul.

That's what Ellen's morning call did. That's what the silent morning flight of the large cranes does.

Ellen is more than the former poet laureate to me. She is the mom of a former co-worker, the grandmother of a former student of my wife's and, I am quite tickled to say, a reader of my column. 

And she is a fellow admirer of the crane.

"I want to be the one who opens the morning sky," she tells me.

She simmers and bastes the language, reducing it to its flavorful essence.

She says that when we hear the crane chorus, we'll know she is near: "For you, I will fly low enough to lay my shadow on the ground."

My leathered journalist's spine tingles at the picture she paints.

I had the full poem by the end of the morning, complete with Ellen's signature. It has a spot waiting in my office, next to another of her crane poems, a wonderful birthday present from my wife.

-- David Horst


  1. Are you able to post the poem in its entirety yet?
    Your blog was brought to my attention by Ellen Kort's daughter...I look forward to catching up on it.