Our editoral board met at Miriam’s house for breakfast last week to hash out the May newsletter. Amidst coffee, croissants, and six month old twins, I was assigned Mother’s Day for the theme of the owner’s letter. It was impressive watching the mother of twins in action. It struck me that these beaming, gurgling little people have absolutely no idea of the sacrifices already made on their behalf and this is just year one. When I witness my wife tending our ripening fruit (ages 17 and 19), I am in awe of her ongoing versatility, capability and just sheer willingness to get out of bed and care for all of us each day. This is bigger magic than I can claim. Bigger magic than I can describe.
My mother passed last month after a long and mostly peaceful decline. My siblings and I are corresponding about an upcoming memorial service. Words have never seemed so inadequate and powerless. As with any great sacrifice or gift, there is really no way to express your gratitude. Billy Collins captures this perfectly in “The Lanyard” (yes, I am asking you to read another poem!–it's worth it):
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.
Buy mom a card and this book of poetry. Make a small effort on her great behalf.
Owner and Bookseller
For The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins and other great gifts for mom, be sure to visit Island Books on Mercer Island in Washington or your local, independent bookstore, online or in person.