The Lanyard

The other day I was strolling along a street here in Honolulu I chanced upon a strange looking object on the ground. It looked like this.

After some sleuthing, I determined it is the frond of a Norfolk Pine, Araucaria heterophylla, if you recall your Latin. Apparently the tree originated in Australia and now grows throughout the South Pacific. Here in Honolulu it is widely used as a Christmas tree.

As I looked closely at the frond, I was immediately reminded of a lanyard, the multi-colored plastic strands that we used to weave together at the summer camp I went to each year.

It didn’t take long before I also recalled one my favorite Billy Collins’s poems. No wonder, as it is called The Lanyard.

The Lanyard - 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 poem is best enjoyed if read it out loud. Try to capture the wistful humor that Collins coveys in this reading.

Note: Marks in the Margin will be on Spring Break for a while. Thank you for reading. Meanwhile, I hope you discover new literary gems and enjoy sunny days.