Mother’s Day in the Poetry Corner

Mothers’s Day takes us to the poetry corner for the third time this week. There is an unavoidable element of confession in passing along this particular poem. I sent it to my own mother, and — naturally — she absolved me.

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.

(Billy Collins was the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, and Poet Laureate of New York from 2004 to 2006. This poem is excerpted from his 2005 collection, The Trouble with Poetry: and Other Poems.)

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One Response to “Mother’s Day in the Poetry Corner”

  1. Timothy Peach Says:

    When I was in college, home for the summer. sleeping until noon all day, leaving a mess everywhere, my poor beleaguered father said to me, “Brim, I can’t wait until you have your own house and family. Because when you do, the first time I visit, I’m going to walk in their with a sock full of warm horse manure, with the hole end out. Then I’m going to stand in the middle of your living room, and swing it around over my head.”

    But he never did. He paid for my college, was jolly to see me every time I visited him, was the perfect guest whenever he came to my home, and then he died 3 days shy of my birthday in 2003.

    He didn’t need to mess up my living room. God is swinging that thing around in my life, all day, every day. What comes around, goes around.


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