Pushpa MacFarlane and Dennis Richardson: A favorite poem

by Billy Collins

All through growing up, I made handmade gifts for my family. Aside from making their dresses and personalized birthday cakes, I always surprised them with store-bought presents I knew they would like, but never expected. I didn’t want them to be embarrassed by my handmade gifts in front of friends. I regret I didn’t pass on this valued experience to my kids.  When I first read this poem it hit me in my gut—it still does every time. I believe it was written for me. I can now pass this on to them. So this one’s for you, kids…

Pushpa MacFarlane
Healthcare Representative
San Jose

In 2002, my wife and I went to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey. Having only read some of my wife’s poetry, I had never done anything with poetry except in high school and that says it all. The first poet we heard at the festival was Billy Collins. The poem was so well written, catchy in its presentation and really funny in its exaggeration, I was not ready for the ending when it hit me. So poignant, with a few tears in my eyes, I knew I would read and write poetry from that day on and, indeed, I wrote my first poem the next morning.

Dennis Richardson
Retired Math Teacher
San José


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.

Billy Collins



Filed under Favorite Poem

3 responses to “Pushpa MacFarlane and Dennis Richardson: A favorite poem

  1. Roohi Vora

    Thank you for sharing this poem Pushpa and Dennis. Dennis, I didn’t know much about Billy Collins when I heard you speaking of his work at the poetry workshop in Lisbon, but hearing him read his poem “Lanyard” brought tears to my eyes, and I was reminded of Emerson in “Gifts:” “The gift, to be true, must be flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him.” To my mom, the only gift my unworthy self can give is the gift of love.

  2. Kelly Cressio-Moeller

    Lovely sharings from you both. Dennis, I had no idea. Beautiful.

  3. Tim Tomasi

    Pushpa and Dennis,

    I was very touched by your short explanations as to why this BC poem, Lanyard, was our favorite. Dennis, I didn’t realize all the time we’ve known each other, that this ignited tour poetic heart.

    I too remember making many lanyards and bracelets at my summer playground when I was a boy in Bennington Vermont. With all due respect to BC, he bracelets were worn and the lanyard was used to carry a whistle for coaches and camp counselors.


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