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Billy Collins: This is a . . . this is a poem about a small, trivial thing that is . . . I’m kind of using to access a bigger topic.  It’s about something that children do in the summertime.  It’s called “The Lanyard”.“The other day as I was ricocheting slowly off the pail, 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 – the past where I sat at a work bench 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 facecloths 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-toned 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.”

More from the Big Idea for Sunday, May 09 2010

 

A Poem For Mother's Day

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