For Mother’s Day : “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins

by Hilary Gauntt on May 2, 2014

This is just a wonderful poem about the impossibility of ever paying back the ultimate gift a mother bestows on a child. It was written by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and will touch your heart in the best way. And perhaps make you wonder if any gift for your Mother isn’t as futile as the lanyard in this poem ……


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-toned 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.   (2005)


Photo credit to doting husband and father Ryan Kirby

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ludie May 2, 2014 at 11:43 pm

I loved this! But I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know what a “lanyard” was! I looked it up in the dictionary and loved the definition! It makes the poem just that much sweeter. It defines lanyard as:

A lanyard is a rope or cord, typically worn around the neck, shoulder, or wrist to carry an object.Usually it is used where there is a risk of losing the object or to ensure that it is visible at all times.

When I first read it I thought the lanyard reflected how the mother felt about her son…..but when I re-read it, I believe it subconsciously reflects how the boy felt towards his mother. He made it for her to keep her close to him.

Either way, thank-you and Happy Mother’s Day my dear friend.
xoxox’s ludie


Diane Armstrong May 3, 2014 at 9:05 am

Not sure why but this year has been one of reflection about my parents…and of course with Mother’s Day approaching my mom. What a wonderful poem inciting memories of those random gifts i gave her as well as those received. This is thirty years of being without her presence yet her wisdom, and strength and love reveal at the times I need her most. Thank you darling friend…love you!


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