The Lanyard

Love this poem!

Billy Collins

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.


  1. This made me cry… and laugh… at the same time! I love having key-rings and flowerpots created by my beautiful kids. Heck, I still love getting the ripped-out coloring book page! Thanks for sharing this wondeful poem. Happy early Mother’s Day to you!

  2. Sweet poem!

    My kids asked me what I wanted for Mother’s day, I said I want them to always belong to Jesus and live a life full in Him. That would make things even 🙂

    Btw- I love all the necklaces! Next time I come to SLO to visit Lindsey, I want to try some on (can I?) and order something. I am not a jewelry wearer, but your creations make me want to be.

    And-I’m adding you to my favorite blogs! I want my people to get around to seeing you, your jewelry, and hearing your story.

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