I don’t usually do an introduction to these poems, but I had to say on this one…it’s one of my very favorites. I laugh every time I read it, and Billy’s reading of it (found here) is perfectly done. Happy Mother’s Day and enjoy!
Billy Collins (1941- )
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.
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I think this is my favorite poem.
As I get older (ha! I mean this to be less pompous than it sounds) I’m finding it so interesting how familiar song lyrics or poems or books I’ve read in the past grow and change in meaning for me. Cases in point: “Table for Two” at the CC reunion concert, and this poem, which I haven’t sat with in a few years and which just made me a little teary, thinking of all my mom friends. ❤️