Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Today's poem - The Lanyard by Billy Collins

The Lanyard
by Billy Collins

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 sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set 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 archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone 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.

I read this for the first time in the new Martha Stewart Newsletter. Another wonderful poem by Billy Collins. I love his poetry.


  1. Thank you - that brought tears to my heart! Beautiful! How do you repay a mother?

  2. And you know, that lanyard did make them even I suspect in his mom's eyes. He was her precious boy and he gave her something he made with his own hands. Even indeed. Or that is what this mom would think.

  3. Thank you for bringing back memories of summers spent making lanyards out of gimp. My mother got her share as Christmas presents.

    I laugh to remember how not so many years ago she gave me enough gimp to make another lanyard which I promptly gave to her.

  4. What a wonderful poem! I love this feature of your blog - hope you'll keep the poems coming!

  5. Thank you all. I just love that poem. I tried to read it aloud to Tom and the tears stopped me. Kay, I know you are right. We love all those "little" gifts, handmade or bought. Kat, what an awesome thing for your mother to do. I think you got your sense of humor from her. Midwestmaven, I sure will, and thank you for saying that. I like poems that I can understand. There's a neat one coming up when my peonies open. :<)


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