Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Lanyard

A fitting poem, for Mother's Day:

The Lanyard
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.

Amen. Thank you Lord, for my Mother,
and for my wife, who is the best Mother I have ever known.
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