It’s not too early to be thinking about Mother’s Day. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I write the Mother’s Day catalog for my job. Go figure. Anyway, as I wrote this morning about celebrating motherhood, I had the soft suede voice of my favorite poet, Billy Collins, playing in my earphones and conveniently drowning out the noise of my own child begging at my leg for another piece of valentine candy. Eventually, if not ironically, Mr. Collins began to read a fitful poem that very well may be my favorite poem in the world. To me, it perfectly summates the experience of both child and mother alike. And after it summates, it just kind of makes you chuckle. Please enjoy:
by Billy Collins
The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
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 more suddenly into the past—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid 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 sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set 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 archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
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.
I’m giving this to you in advance with a gift idea. There’s plenty of time for you to order your own red and white plastic and weave them together before May 13th. Or, if she likes poetry, she might just enjoy this as well.