Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Happy Belated Mother's Day

Last August I heard Billy Collins on The Prairie Home Companion, reading one of the most amusing and touching poems I have heard in a long time. "The Lanyard" instantaneously became one of my most beloved of poems. So even though I am almost a month late, I wanted to share this poem with all of the mothers I know.

To my own mother who lovingly accepted from my little hands tiny fake flowers within an upside down baby food jar complete with gilded lid, I give my love, thanks, and some grandkids.


The Lanyard


by Billy Collins


The other day I was ricocheting slowly

off the blue walls of this room,

moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,

from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,

when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary

where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.



No cookie nibbled by a French novelist

could send one into the past more suddenly—

a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp

by a deep Adirondack lake

learning how to braid long thin plastic strips

into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.



I had never seen anyone use a lanyard

or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,

but that did not keep me from crossing

strand over strand again and again

until I had made a boxy

red and white lanyard for my mother.


She gave me life and milk from her breasts,

and I gave her a lanyard.

She nursed me in many a sick room,

lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,

laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,

and then led me out into the airy light



and taught me to walk and swim,

and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said,

and here is clothing and a good education.

And here is your lanyard, I replied,

which I made with a little help from a counselor.



Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,

strong legs, bones and teeth,

and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,

and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now,

is a smaller gift—not the worn truth



that you can never repay your mother,

but the rueful admission that when she took

the two-tone lanyard from my hand,

I was as sure as a boy could be

that this useless, worthless thing I wove

out of boredom would be enough to make us even.


1 comment:

Melanie J said...

Hi, Jami.

My husband embedded a link in his comment on my post that has Billy Collins reading this poem. I love it, too. Billy Collins is new to my husband so he's been having fun exploring his stuff.

Great poem.