Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Poem

A year ago, a good friend gave me a recording of Billy Collins reading his poetry. I hesitate to say that when I received this CD, I did not know who he was. Didn't know he was poet laureate either.

My kids and I are Billy Collins fans now. We listen to him in the car when I want a change from bickering or Top Ten. Probably one of my favorite poems on this CD is The Lanyard. It is a poem that anyone who is a mother, or a son, can appreciate.

Try reading it out loud. Really, no one is watching.

The Lanyard

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

If you'd like to hear Billy's voice, and it is a wonderful voice to listen to, go to his website at www.bestcigarette.us/. There is a whole album of poems available for free download. These ones are new to me, I'm going to listen to them on my earphones when my kids get on my nerves being out of school for Thanksgiving break. It gives me a reason to look forward to the inevitable fighting.


chigiy at Gardeners Anonymous said...

O.K. You made me cry. Are you happy now?
I can't show this poem to my boys for a while because I get a lanyard from each of them about every 6 months. It's a cub scout thing. They would be offended that Billy thinks they're useless. I'm sure that every time they give me a lanyard, they do feel they're one up on me for the whole birth thing.

Anonymous said...

What a great poem. I loved it. I read it as I toil in my office and it put a smile on my face.

Anonymous said...

Hi Amber,
I am glad you like Billy Collins too!