Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Lanyard: a Mother's Day poem

Can I tell you a secret? Poetry kind of scares me. Prose is so much more forgiving; the extra words give me time to figure out what's going on. So, I depend on Exponent women or my mother or my mother-in-law to bring me good poetry that they know I can handle.

Happy Mother's Day to all those women who have sacrificed and mothered me (and for those lanyards I offer as repayment? You're welcome.)

The Lanyard
by Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
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 more suddenly into the past--
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid 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 sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set 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 say to her now, is a smaller gift—not the archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
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.


Rachel said...

Mom shared this one with me too and I thought it was great.

sara said...

I read that once before, maybe last year on someone's blog... I love it. Hope you had a great Mother's Day!

jaredandmatisse said...

This was my first time reading this poem and I give you full credit for introducing it to me. I am still laughing about the French novelist part. Happy Mother's Day Em. I heard you had to speak. I hope you read the poem.