“The Lanyard” by Billy Collins

This weekend is Mother’s Day. So, today for “poetry Saturday” I wanted to share my favorite unofficial Mother’s Day Poem “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins.

I find Billy Collins’s poetry to be so accessible, so honest, so lovely. There’s a reason this poem is a favorite of many.


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.


One of my favorite things is hearing poets read their own work aloud. Here is Billy Collins reading “The Lanyard.”

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