Remembering on Mother’s Day . . .

Long-time colleague Ted Morgan just now read Billy Collins’ poem “The Lanyard” at Quaker meeting this morning. I wish you could have heard his voice. Quiet, reflective. I had to turn my eyes from the Zoom screen, as if afraid someone would see the tears slowly welling there. Silly masculinity. After Ted’s reading, I was surprised by the reaction of the audience here to the author’s reading — laughter. Maybe because it was a large group. I don’t know. But it felt quite different to me, alone, in Sunday worship. I wish you could have heard Ted’s voice. But I’m sure you will be moved by this simple, beautiful tribute to a mother.

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.

One thought on “Remembering on Mother’s Day . . .

  1. Good afternoon Gadfly. I am impressed. You have an ability to find the most amazing people and share the good work they do with us all. I read the poem first and then watched the video multiple times. I laughed a good laugh and smiled when I realized mothers only want their children to be happy. There is no keeping score. Is it as simple as that? I suppose it is. I can only pray that my brothers and I have given our mother that “Lanyard” at least once. Signed Gadfly son number four

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