Happy Mothers’ Day!


Happy Mother’s Day to anyone who is a mother, or just has a mother. (I’m only in the latter club) Here’s a poem by Billy Collins, my favorite poet. He’s funny, poignant, and the ultimate go-to guy whenever I meet someone who claims they don’t like/”can’t get” poetry. (which I think is like complaining you can’t see through a stained-glass window)

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.
What I think I love most about this poem is that the same sentiment can be transcribed to the relationship between God and humanity, or at least God and me. Perhaps grade school arts & crafts are to a mother’s love as our church is to God’s love. Adequate? Heavens, no. Delightful nonetheless? Absolutely.

This Mothers’ Day, I will take my mom and myself out to get pedicures and will promise to go a whole weekend without making fake vomit noises whenever my mom brings up Grey’s Anatomy. Adequate? No. Delightful nonetheless? I can only hope. 

Summer 1986

I highly encourage you to invest in a book or two of Billy Collins’ poems: 

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected PoemsThe Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems

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