Ellen
Saturday, June 26, 1999
Listen

(GK: Garrison Keillor, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith, TR: Tim Russell)

(GUITAR)

GK:

If you're going to the north country fair
Where the wind blows heavy on the border line
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.
It's been thirty years since I met Ellen. It was at a friend's house. A birthday party. Everyone else brought a book or a bottle of wine or stationery. Ellen gave of herself.

SS: This is a poem. For you, Jennifer. On your birthday. I hope you like it.

 

Wind
On my eyelids
Heat
On my hair
Two birds land
In the tree
My
Lunch break
Is over.
GK: Ellen was tall with long brown hair that was not tied but sort of arranged on her back, and if it got bunched up she would toss her head and fling her hair out and resettle it. You didn't want to stand right behind Ellen.

SS: Oh. Sorry.

GK: When she came to parties, she always brought her own food in Baggies, seeds and sprouts.

SS: It's energizes your higher power, to eat food that carries the spirit of the sun.

GK: She never drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes, she didn't dance except sometimes alone, throwing her hair. Mostly she wrote poems in her very small precise hand on slips of paper that she folded into a tiny square and tied with a ribbon.

SS:

Everything
That is
Of
Importance
Begins with
A dog
Crossing
The room,
Expecting
A visitor.
GK: Ellen and I went on dates. A sort of date. We'd sit in a public place, like a cemetery, and she'd read me her poems.

SS:

Why does nobody
Come out
The door
To collect
The mail
And find instead
The nest
And two eggs?
GK: We'd sit and ever so often I'd carefully put my hand on her knee. Ellen was not ashamed of the human body. That impressed me at the time.

SS: I feel that the human body is sacred, it's the temple of God.

GK: I was ashamed and terrified of the human body, especially mine. My people believed that God's temple should be kept locked at all times and also the ten foot fence around it, we didn't even like people to come into the neighborhood. But Ellen believed that beauty was to be shared.

SS:

What is the body?
It is
A tree
In whose branches
Dwells
The bird
Of
Paradise
Whose name
Is
You.
GK: And sometimes at a party, late, when someone had put on a sitar record and there was incense burning and all of us Midwesterners were trying to experience life intensely before we went home to bed to get up and go to work at the parking lot, late at night you'd turn around and there she was, the temple of God, a thing of beauty, a tree with a bird in it, her white caftan lying on the floor at her feet.

GK: One night when she was fully dressed, her hair arrayed across her back, I told her I loved her with all my heart.

SS: I love you too.

GK: You do?

SS: Of course.

GK: What do you mean, of course?

SS: Let's go down by the river.

GK: Do you really want to?

SS: We're going there, so that's where I want to go.

GK: But are you sure you want to do this, though?

SS: Do what?

GK: I don't know. Whatever - I don't know.

SS: I feel that we are two people in one soul. You and me.

GK: Okay -

SS: And we'll join our beings.

GK: Well, however you want to put it.

SS: Out essences.

GK: Look, I just have to tell you one thing. I'm only an English major. I don't know anything about life, I just write about it. Okay? - Which was the truth. I was young and loved poems about life whipping by and how you had to gather rosebuds while ye may and come live with me and be my love because chill death is just around the corner. I loved these beautiful morbid poems, thinking they'd come in handy someday, though they hadn't worked for me yet.

In a field down by the river, my love and I did stand
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand
She bid me take life easy, and let the days and hours come,
But I was young and foolish and now am old and dumb.
SS: This is such a completely true moment. Look. The river. Time. The moon. The grass. The beautiful grass.

GK: We were sitting naked in somebody's backyard at a house north of Minneapolis where the parents were just about to come out of the bedroom and send everyone home. So I knew that time really was fleeting. I looked at her bare back and I said - I have this feeling that it's part of the truth of this moment, this moonlight on the river, us in the grass - that I should touch you. - And I touched her bare right shoulder.

SS: I wanted you to do that.

GK: I left my hand on her shoulder.

SS: This is so amazing - this feeling of being entire.

GK: You feel that? Already?

SS: This feeling of, like, completion. Amazing. How one small gesture can represent everything.

GK: I was confused by her saying this. I didn't mean that my touching her shoulder should represent everything. I meant that it should be only the first in a series of small gestures.

SS: Give me your pencil.

GK: What?

SS: Your pencil.

GK: Okay. And she bent down, beautiful naked woman hair streaming down her back, and she wrote on a tiny slip of paper held against her thigh.

SS:

On the
Grass
Beside the
River
Your muse
Sits
Waiting,
O Poet,
To give you
The works.
GK: That's nice. I don't know what to say.

SS: Poetry is like that sometimes.

GK: I wish this moment could last forever. - I said this, knowing it was a lie. I didn't want it to last forever, what I wanted was for it to last about another half an hour and for us to kind of open up our temples and - sort of - I don't know - like share the same driveway. And then she picked up her caftan and put it on and blew out the little candle she'd stuck in the grass and she was gone.

SS: They're calling to us.

GK: Who?

SS: Corinne's parents.

GK: Oh.

SS: They see us down here. - (OFF) Coming! Be there in a moment!

TR: She left them?

GK: Somebody gave her a ride home.

TR: Did you think about calling her after that?

GK: I thought of it.

TR: And?

GK: I was going to but before I did I sort of wanted to have a plan, and imagine it in my own mind what it'd be like, and when I finally got it figured out, where we'd go and what I'd say and everything, she'd left town. She went to graduate school. In Boston.

TR: And you never saw her after that.

GK: I never saw her again.

TR: And you still think of her.

GK: I do. It's funny but I do.

 

The joys of love are but a moment long
The pain of love endures the whole night long.
One bright day she made my heart rejoice
And now I wander the earth searching for her voice.
TR: Thirty years later, you still think about her.

GK: I do.

TR: Every day?

GK: No.

TR: Twice a week?

GK: No, I don't think so.

TR: Give me an estimate.

GK: I think about her less than I wish I did.

TR: How is that?

GK: I think she was my muse.

TR: In what sense?

GK: I think there is such a thing as a beautiful person who inspires you to do all sorts of wonderful things - you have a sort of romance but not really because you never could be married or even be lovers with them but you still long for them and this longing is a kind of inspiration that lets you create things and find things in yourself that you never would've otherwise.

TR: Well. We've raised some interesting issues here.

GK: I think she was my muse and now she's gradually fading and I wish I could find a way to bring her back.

TR: So you miss her.

GK: I do.

TR: Have you tried to get in contact with Ellen again?

GK: No.

TR: Have you wanted to?

GK: She went to Boston and she had some kind of mystical experience, a dream about balance, and she went to Harvard Business School and got an M.B.A. and was a partner in setting up Landing.Net which was -

TR: Landing.Net. Really.

GK: - one of the big early online businesses and she started another one, Mommy.com, which I guess just sold for a couple hundred million bucks.

TR: I read about that.

GK: I saw her picture in Newsweek. Her hair was short. She wore a suit.

TR: Our time is up.

GK:

O love is handsome and love is fine
Gay as a jewel when first it is new
But love grows old and waxes cold
And fades away like morning dew.
(GK HUMS LAST TWO LINES)

SS (WIFE): There was a message for you on the answering machine. Someone named Ellen. She called today.

GK: What did she want?

SS: She didn't say.

GK: She didn't leave any sort of message?

SS: She hoped you were well.

GK: Oh.

SS: Sounded like an old friend.

GK: Did she leave a number?

SS: No. So where do you know her from?

GK: In the north country fair. Up near the border line.

SS: What happened to her?

GK: She moved to Boston. I guess. I haven't seen her in thirty years.

SS: Is she the one you told me about, the one with the little snow-white feet and hands?

GK: They were sort of snow-white. Not that little though. She was tall. Kind of big snow-white feet.

SS: An old friend?

GK: Mmmmhmmmm.

SS: A good friend?

GK: A true friend.

SS: Why don't you call her?

GK: Because she's in the past.

SS: Well. Whatever. (PAUSE)

(PHONE RINGS.)

(PAUSE)

(PHONE RINGS AGAIN)

SS (OFF): Aren't you going to answer it?

(PHONE RINGS)

SS (OFF): Do you want me to get it?

(PHONE RINGS)

GK: No.

If you're going to the north country fair
Where the wind blows heavy on the border line
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true friend of mine.

(c) 1999 by Garrison Keillor

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy