Issue 2, Spring 2007


Looking for Cottonwoods
by Linda Rodriguez

King of lost causes,
champion of the hopeless,
you want to plant a cottonwood
before you die.
“That cotton gets in air conditioners,”
says your landlady, “messes up cars.
Just ruined my good spike heels one year.
Cottonwood’s a pest tree.”

“Why?” I ask. No naturalist
but expert windmill-tilter,
you describe these natives
of creekbanks and hills greeting settlers
whose descendants cheer their disappearance.
We search for the source
of the cottonwood down blowing from Brush Creek,
but neither of us knows one branch shape
or leaf from another.

To learn acacia from mimosa, linden from locust,
we stroll Loose Park, book in hand,
comparing leaves, flowers, fruits, bark,
naming maple, mulberry,
sycamore, black walnut,
English oak, American elm,
those who waited with the Indians all those centuries,
those the Europeans imported to ornament
a continent of forests
when a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic
to the Missouri without touching the ground.
We take home single- and multi-lobed leaves,
read how fashionable Kansas Citians plant
Bradford pear, vulnerable to every disease and pest.
The cottonwood’s invulnerable,
except to lightning and humans.

We walk blocks condemned for the public
benefit of building luxury condos,
the fight against this your latest lost cause.
Cottony down shrouds the vacant houses
and raw earth. By the parked bulldozers,
sitting on an island of grass and tree
within an excavation, roots exposed,
stands the source, fifty feet tall,
the plains cottonwood.
Drifts of gauze dotted with hard kernels
line the edges of the block-long hole.
I seize a handful
to wrap in a tissue
and shelter in your pocket.
At home, I fill a can with damp earth.
We’ll keep it inside while it sprouts
so the neighbors can’t see,
cottonwood radicals.