Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Lanyard

At my school, we faculty and staff have become lanyard-wearers (they bear new IDs that we're supposed to wear, as a security measure, whenever we're on campus). Though the poem that follows isn't quite about school and security, I've found it hard of late not to think about it whenever I put mine on.

(Because I cut and pasted this from elsewhere, I can't attest to the accuracy of the line-breaks; I'll come back later today/tonight to tidy it up, if need be.)

The Lanyard

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the 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 sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
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."

--Billy Collins


Conrad H. Roth said...

A madeleine is not a 'cookie'. This is not a poem, but merely verse.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Sorry, didn't mean to be mean.

Winston said...

Sweet. I remember it well. Lanyards, little reed baskets, little wooden boxes with designs burned into them, a fired clay ashtray for my dad. I was so proud. So were they. Over the last few years as we have sorted out their life belongings, I have re-found many of those items from long ago that I brought from camp, along with a child's letters that I wrote telling them how much fun I was having and how much I missed them and about the mosquito bites I got on a hike down to the lake.

John B. said...

No reason to be upset over your being right, Conrad. But what can I say: this appeals to the plebian in me--as does the applicability of the theme of the inadequate gesture presented as an adequate one to my work environment.

While we're on the subject: I do wish Keats had been a better student of history.

R. Sherman said...

No fair bringing in Mothers. Especially, when I am going to wash my 79 year old Mother's car tonight, because her back is acting up.



Anonymous said...

Sweet and you know lanyards and dandelions and wounded birds to heal presented by our children are gift enough. Or at least they were for this Mom.

The Motley McCauley's said...

I find it appalling that one can take a piece of work and add their own quotation marks...