It’s startling how Billy Collins pierces through the verbosity of prose to the core of an emotion. Since I discovered “The Lanyard,” poems like “Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant” and his new work “Cheerios” and “To My Favorite 17-Year-Old High School Girl” from Aimless Love have found their way into my scrapbook. “My Hero,” […]Read More “My Hero” by Billy Collins
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure that you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before we depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not be always so. One day I […]Read More “Normal Day” by Mary Jean Irion
One brisk, golden day, my friend Shona and I set out to realize one of my longtime dreams: tracking down my favorite Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ever since I first read about the public-arts project years ago in the Christian Science Monitor, I’ve wanted to stroll those sidewalks myself. Judging from […]Read More Minnesota poetry walk
The Bay Area hardly knew summer this year, it’s been so cool. Even so, I can hardly wait for autumn…in Minneapolis! Made good on a Delta airfare sale, so this fall I’m going to visit an old friend who moved there and finally, finally get to check out Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk myself, hopefully […]Read More
Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins first captured my attention with his wry reading of “The Lanyard” delivered at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and recorded for PBS’s Poetry Everywhere. His deadpan delivery cracks me up.
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.