Mother’s Day in the Poetry Corner (Reposted)

I posted this two years ago, but I can’t resist reposting it.  Happy Mother’s Day all around.

And, uh, Tim:  It’s this Sunday.

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 (Reposted)”

  1. Timothy Peach Says:

    It is truly wonderful.

    It reminded me of my father, picking me up from a bus back from college, telling me — in a conversation about his paying for all of that — “You owe me nothing.”

    And to date, the only pay back he has gotten from me is that I remembered to say the same thing to my son when I dropped him off at Villanova last fall.

    That a revelation — e.g. that our dearest obligations must be repaid forward — is trite says nothing about the power of that truth.

    There is an outside chance I said all of this already here.


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