I’ve never made a lanyard, but sometimes Billy Collins says it just right

I’m back! Here are some images from our trip to the south…a teaser for stories to follow.

In the meantime — since I will prioritize unpacking my bag and arranging my things over writing for once — I am sharing with you this poem by Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States and fellow Holy Cross alum (yes, I am proud).  It’s a poem that has made me laugh in the past but seems right now more than ever to sum up my appreciation for my own parents.  What do you think?

The Lanyard – 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.


Filed under Art, Cool Characters, Gratitude

4 responses to “I’ve never made a lanyard, but sometimes Billy Collins says it just right

  1. Makes me wonder what my hypothetical future children will make at camp for me someday.

    (And I can’t wait to hear about you vacation stories! Bisous)

  2. Deirdre

    Coming from a future mommy: I LOVE this.

  3. Made me cry, Em. Beautiful!

    Glad you all had a good time. The picture is beautiful. I’m looking forward to seeing them myself. Hugs~<3

  4. J. Forsberg Meyer

    Oh! I’ve heard Billy Collins read this poem twice now on Prairie Home Companion, and it always utterly destroys me. He says it all so well! A beautiful tribute to your parents, Emily. And aside from the lanyard, you’ve paid them back times over by the singular person you’ve become…that is their true reward. OK, now I’m verklempt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s