Book Shops Offer Us Civilizations

A collection by Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall

Book Shops Offer Us Civilizations

Book shops offer us civilizations
Democracies of the living and the dead –
Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, and you
Over cups of coffee wrangling meter and rhyme

Book shops offer us civilizations

James Weldon Johnson, Keats, and Claude McKay
Are questioning Auden along Aisle 3
Yevtushenko scoffs at bureaucracy
Ahkmatova Stray Dogs the lot of us

Book shops offer us civilizations

And only an unhappy man who has lost his way
Obsesses on the bookseller’s DNA

Books on Watch

A day closes in obedience to the clock,
To weary yawns, more yawns, and wonky joints
Words read are unremembered at this hour,
And pages lie open, idle, unseen
The windowpanes reflect only this room
And its books, neither neat nor catalogued,
Slovenly ranks of civilization,
Askew, aslant, but yet on duty still;
They stand, and in defiance face the dark:
Poetry, novels, histories, and art,
Biographies and essays, music, too –
Even in their silence they seem to say
Slink off, dark Chaos, for here we stand and stay

Each Carrying a Holy Book

Most people carry a vade mecum
Bound in leather, or in cloth-covered boards
Sometimes in paperback, the words being all
In a portable portal to the transcendent

For President Lincoln it was Macbeth
For Fermor The Oxford Book of English Verse
For some a Bible, for some the bad news of Marx
(For Yevtushenko, well, he carried himself)

And what is your book, in pocket or purse –
Dostoyevsky, perhaps, or a bit of verse?

Midway Through The Oxford Book of Christian Verse

O, oh, ah, ah me!

Wand’ring, ling’ring, confin’d, lock’d, undiscover’d
Own’d, enthron’d, flow’ring, and perplex’d
Tho’, fetter’d, hallow’d, spread’st, leav’st, vouchsaf’st, ‘midst
Th’eternal, th’unwearied, t’express, pass’d

Slipp’ry, congeal’d, ‘twere, ev’ry, hurl’d, triumph’d
‘Twas, sinn’d, cleans’d, ‘bove, astonish’d, t’expire, bid’st, o’er
Scatter’d, hugg’d, bow’d, summ’d, e’er, fill’d, disappear’d
Bow’r, flourish’d, heav’n, anger’d, dissol’vd, wither’d, stain’d


O antic scriv’ner, huddled in your cowl
Coulds’t I purchase a gross or two of vow’l?

Not Burning the Books That Aren’t There

In Eastern Europe the [Nazis] burned…375 archives, 402 museums, 531 institutes, and 957 libraries.
-Molly Guptill Manning, When Books Went to War, p. 13

In America books are neither burned
Nor banned – the State does not execute poets
Mostly because the mutual writers of grants
Move no one with their me-verse free-verse bleats

In America books are usually ignored
Robert Frost is a mystery to the president
James Baldwin means nothing to the DNC
And doesn’t Ernie Pyle play for the Jets?

Statues have been pulled down, each in its turn
As for the books – there aren’t many to burn

Poetry – Ideas Dressed up with Some Place to Go

A poem need not be so overdressed
That it embarrasses free-verse poseurs
Awash in self-absorbed, self-pitying tears
The sound of one first-person pronoun clapping

But still they should be instructed

That a poem is not about the poet
It is about the reader who has turned
His attention and the writer’s pages
To the existential questions of life

And so is properly dressed for its work

Not-a-Haiku about Haiku
By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall

Only a Japanese master can shape happy words
To fall upon the earth like soft spring rain
Choreographing merry rivulets
Through which Ame-no-Usume dances the dawn

Only a Japanese master can take a leaf
As a page of the Emperor’s great book
And taste it, hear it, touch it, sing of it
And in it see the completion of the world

Only a Japanese master can wield
Kireji, On, and Kigo as a sword

(In this context “master” is gender-neutral)

The Haikuza

The Haikuza leaps
Silently from concealment
And steals your iambs

Author’s notes:
“Haikuza” from “haiku” + “Yakuza” (Japanese gangsters and hyper-nationalists / traditionalists)
From Paleo-Hippies at Work and Play, 2014, available on

Plautus and Tarzan

The plays of Plautus all repose in peace
Next to my boyhood’s tattered Tarzan books
University classes and summer days
I suppose Mercury brought his own vines

Kafka is up against Rilke and Parzival
They seem to get along with each other
Cavafy and Plath talk out their issues
As do Hammarskjold and Dostoyevsky

I mean to organize my books someday
But Thoreau suggests I go fishing instead

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