And here is your lanyard, I replied.

I found this poem yesterday on Susan Cain’s wonderful website.

The Lanyard (by 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.


4 thoughts on “And here is your lanyard, I replied.

  1. “…would be enough to make us even.”

    It was, for otherwise only memories remain.

    Anna Maria

    I recall her smile
    How she laughed
    And skipped with joy and clapped her hands
    When she chose her puppy.

    I recall her face drawn down in frown
    Eyes blazing as she paused
    And finally took a breath
    And raised her voice
    In defense of friends.

    I watched her moods unfold
    Sometimes uncontrolled
    Joy, despair, anger, compassion
    As she grappled with life’s challenges and mysteries
    At times stumbling in childish error.

    I’d like you to know what she was like
    How she lived from day to day.

    But those details, now disordered, lie in the past
    Beyond the grasp of words and gestures.

    Still, there is this.

    In my heart her faults and contradictions need no resolution .
    So with no concern for truth or fact
    I simply give you this description.
    She was perfect.

    For us the universe has dimmed.
    But in this universe we still can proudly say such things
    And give each other strength and consolation.
    For we understand each other.

    Therefore, friends, come near.
    Together we will search for meaning
    In words like love and loss
    In memories
    And in tears.

  2. Thank you.

    I was asked to read something at the Parents of Murdered Children 2011 Annual Day of Remembrance, which was held on the 23rd of September, so I worked on it on and off from the 17th to the 23rd of September.

  3. Heidi says:

    Cath, I love the poem you found, and I don’t generally like poetry! The last line really gave me a kick in the pants. Thanks for posting.

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