Lizzie gets even

I’ve been posting submissions in the order in which I received them, which led to the mistiming of today’s entry of Billy Collins’ tribute to his mother, “The Lanyard.” Should have been last week, before Mother’s Day. That said, (said the mother), Hallmark doesn’t have a monopoly on appropriate days to thank one’s mother.


Today’s poem and picture are from Lizzie, my daughter, a nurse in northern Michigan. She noted that the first stanza sounds like a re-cap of daily life under shelter-at-home orders. Indeed it does!


Thanks, Lizzie, the floor is yours—




I put the poem in the aisle where the toilet paper should be, across from the mother/baby aisle. Hoped it would get more traffic there. I felt very protective of it and lingered for a little too long, not wanting the poem to get taken down before it made some meaning for someone!


I like the poem because it captures the absurdity and difficulty of thanking a mother for mothering, and makes me think how beautiful and pure is a mother’s love, a love that does not ask to be repaid.



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.



  1. Barb Cholewa

    what a beautiful submission, lizzie! the words touched MY heart so i can only imagine that your mom felt it even moreso! thanks for reminding me of every macaroni necklace and dandelion bouquet… wouldn’t trade those gifts for anything and yes, we ARE even!

  2. emansheikh2007

    Hi, my name is Eman and i was wondering if you could feature on of my poems on your website i am fairly new and struggling to get noticed with so many other amazing websites so,If you would like to, then the link to my website is on my profile, I write poetry, short stories and am starting to do some art as well.

    1. poemelf

      Hi Eman, thanks for reading! I am sorry to say that I don’t post poems from readers. . . I feature poems by established poets, and while that might seem unfair or punitive to unpublished writers, that’s just how this blog has worked from the beginning.

      I hear your frustration with getting noticed. Don’t give up, just keep doing the work and trying to get it out there. And congrats on getting your website up!

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