Hope and Cottonwood

It’s a curious hope that comes in the spring, in the time of warmer days and ready soil. I plant annuals in their pots, knowing they will only last the season, knowing I will be digging their dead roots out of the planters when the air turns cold. I plant perennials and watch in expectation for their return each year. Is one hope different from the other? Both are rooted in equal amounts of expectation and uncertainty.

There are puffs of cottonwood covering the grass, the deck, the street outside. It rises, falls, rises again and last week I found myself quenched from creative drought suddenly writing a poem about it. I’ve learned not to wait for the muse, but have I trained myself not to answer when it does call?

There are days that seem void of hope, when all the little things I do never seem to add up, to equal “done.” There have been days of grasping and gasping, of so much void I am left breathless and immovable.

I have a good day, a day where I write (though not enough, never enough for a soul as thirsty as mine) and manage to get the laundry done. (Washed! Folded! Put away!) On the heels of that victory is a day spent questioning the value of a life spent celebrating something so inconsequential.

For a long time I have fought this exhausting swing by shutting down. I have rendered myself immovable before anything else can have the chance. Good or bad, I try to keep my emotions in check, at a distance.  I don’t trust what I feel when those feelings can stand in contrast to what I know to be true.

But in this distrust, what room is left for hope? Some days, not much, until I realize I have shut off the tap to my own supply. I look in my cup and find it is empty.

Seeing someone whose own cup is empty makes me ache. I know that empty. This is a hollow that weighs heavy. I hold my cup under the tap and turn it on. It shudders, rusted over from disuse. I wait. Time passes and I’m waiting and the empty starts to press urgent.

I hold out my empty cup and tip it over.

The mystery of hope, of course, is that I can pour out from an empty place and find myself suddenly filled.

Hope, it turns out, is not something that comes from a can, waiting for us to pop the top and drink it down greedily before the bubbles give out. It is meant to be shared, and starts to flow out of the drought, before we ever thought it was possible.

And how is it anything less than hope that spurs the cottonwood to let go of all it has to offer, not knowing for certain whether each seed will land in a place where it will grow? How many seeds have I hoarded in uncertainty? How many words have I not spoken, or wrote, or sung, because I don’t know how they will be received?

“Hope begins in the dark,” writes Anne Lamott, and I’m starting to see that.


Cottonwood floats, twirls,

an indecisive summer snowfall in reverse,

once dropped, picked up again with the slightest hint of breeze

or breath.

And here I fail at sitting still,

my head turned to each floating seed,

hoping for a glimpse of the hummingbird I startled

when I first crashed through the door,

coffee in hand,

ready to be moved.


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