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  • Greg Dover

Curations: The Lanyard

This past Sunday I preached about gratitude, and this poem by poet laureate Billy Collins almost made it into the sermon. (If you want to hear the sermon, check it out on our Facebook page or on our YouTube channel.) It's one of my favorite poems, mainly for the witty but beautiful way children show their gratitude, even for what they can never repay.


It is, for me, a reminder of the innumerable and incomprehensible gifts of God, who - like a mother - has given us life, nurtured and provided for us, healed and sustained us. And a reminder that we can never be "even" for these gifts of grace, no matter how we try to express our gratitude. And a reminder that we should never stop trying to express that gratitude, either...even if all we can offer is a lanyard.



- GJD





"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.


“The Lanyard” from The Trouble With Poetry: and Other Poems by Billy Collins (2005)



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