The Lanyard, a poem by Billy Collins
The Lanyard, a poem by Billy Collins stories

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The other day as I was ricocheting slowly off the blue walls of this room
Source: alllie

The Lanyard, a poem by Billy Collins

by alllie

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 sick room,

lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,

set cold facecloths on my forehead

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-toned 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."

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