Yesterday was my first full day back from Spring Break (topped off by a short trip with Annie). It felt good to put the house in order, make a grocery list, and even run a few errands (normally I detest errand-running). Some of you are still in the throes of winter, so just know that my heart is with you. But here? In Houston? We had a high of 69 -- blue, blue skies and a gentle breeze. In the pool floats a thin layer of yellow pollen. Our red oak grew a whole set of new leaves in the week I was gone. Everything seemed fresh and clean and somehow . . . benevolent. In the favorable light of Spring, I threw back the sun roof, picked up a Sonic drink, and played the music loud. (And yes, I'm sure my kids were embarrassed by my Spring ardor.)

I racked my brain for a way to write SPRING and WIND IN MY HAIR and SUN WARMING MY FACE. But I failed, because I needed to make DINNER, and bake three loaves of banana bread, and get my house cleaned up for a church meeting. 

Also, I'm not Billy Collins. Do you think he has to make dinner?

Spring Fever (from TNYT, April 23, 2011)

Finally, it is time to observe the old ritual
of opening the windows, easily performed
without a shove from any hooded little druids
and no need for a circle of flaming stones.

Yes, the day has arrived to lift the panes
that kept the cold out and the warm in
and gave you a place to stand some days
to watch the snow in its silent descent.

But now a soft, fresh breeze rushes in,
no longer sharpened by the knives of winter
that lately pierced your face
and threatened to shatter your porcelain ears.

A blessing is this new sweet air --
the word zephyr springs to your lips --
that lifts the light curtains
and rejuvenates the room so persuasively

that the oil portrait of your grandfather
appears to be smiling down
from the confines of his heavy frame.
Even the goldfish turns in her round bowl

to face the light from the thrust-open window.
It is spring.
Crocuses break forth. The dogwood trembles.
Persephone touches the earth with her wand.

And there you stand in your blue robe
breathing in the season, filling your lungs
with every bud and blossom,
inhaling every spore and fleck of pollen

until the goldfish leaps into the air
at the sound of your thunderous sneeze.

~Billy Collins


Bring it on, Mother's Day

Gird yourself, ladies, Mother's Day is upon us! Do you love the hullaballoo? Does it cause some pangs? I know for many it's a day fraught with an undercurrent of emotions: guilt about not quite measuring up to the grand pedestal of it all, disappointment in the sometimes meager gestures, sadness about mothers who are no longer here to celebrate (or never were), awkwardness about the fuss. It's taken me time but over the years I've tinkered with my approach to the day enough to know what works for me: (a) keep my expectations low enough so that any gesture will happily surpass them and (b) concentrate on celebrating the mothers and mother figures in my own life.

When it comes down to it, though, how can any celebration or token adequately repay the fact of the creation and delivery and nurture of a new human being, let alone whatever the next decades brought? One of my favorite poems about motherhood, The Lanyard by Billy Collins, perfectly captures the sentiment. I can't resist sharing it every year.

Here's to you, each and all, and the many lanyard-like offerings the weekend may bring:

Mother daughter vintage photobooth photo  via

Mother daughter vintage photobooth photo via

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.

- Billy Collins, from his collection The Trouble with Poetry
Or, here, treat yourself to listening to him read this himself.