Totems


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One of my closest friends sent along this poem by Billy Collins today and it really spoke to me. It was vaguely familiar--I think I read it years ago in my pre-child days, but I hadn't grasped it in the past in quite the same way as I did this morning. As soon as I'd finished reading I tried to remain in the space of the words and took pictures of some of the items the girls have made for me. June is too young yet to create in a spirit of making things "for" me, but Edie seems to be grasping the desire to communicate love through the construction of objects. She's learning to write on her own and I find slips of paper and drawings around the house with variations on the theme of "To Mama, love Edie" (or Edith as she's started signing her name lately). Here's the poem, many thanks to the other Elizabeth for the inspiration:

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.

Comments

TammyPatrice said…
beautiful. I am so thankful to my mother and feel like there is just not enough in the world to give her

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