Books Are Secret Places

A small collection of poems by Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall

Books are Secret Places

Books are secret places where words go to hide
When the world goes wrong, and children are hurt
By grownups who never learned how to read or love
Or even tell funny stories around the campfire

Books are secret places where stories go to hide
When there’s shooting and looting, and children are hurt
By grownups who never think of anything beyond
What their clever leaders tell them to do

Books are secret places where poems go to hide
When museums are looted, and children are hurt
By grownups who can see only ideologies
And never the good, the true, the beautiful

Books are sacred vessels: read them, love them—
They hold our civilization in trust

Lines for Marina Tsvetaeva
“Her poetry is…passion, pain, metaphor, and music.”
-Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Her words soar over utilitarians
Past pale, pedantic propagandists who
Would wrench all poetry into a cause
As if verse were only propaganda

Her picture on a Penguin paperback
Embraces the viewer, stares back, dares back
Her eyes defiant, her arms folded in hope
Armored in her famous clunky jewelry

She bleeds onto the page, into the soul
Her words, suspended in truth against the age

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?

The Unfashion of the Romantics
…the romance of intellectual adventure.
-Daisy Hay, preface to Young Romantics


The Romantics are simply demode, my dear
Those structured paleo-colonialists
Who rattle on about flowers and love
And craft blank verse about walks in the wood


Oh, but note, if you will, young lovers who
Thoughtlessly put their sunlit heads together
Over an open Keats, reading to each other
Among the unwritten leaves of their youth

And now note, if you will, young thinkers who
Thoughtfully put their sunlit words together
Over an open Byron, arguing for freedom
Among and for the peoples of the earth


The young are lines of iambic pentameter
New lines, new lives, discovered in each other

The Petrograd Paradigm

He has more than a touch of Komarovsky*
Loyal to nothing but his appetites
Cigars, sensualties, sins, and souls
All of them casually disposable

He gives more than a touch of Komarovsky
He whips the dogs, and tests the snow to know
If it blows from the east or from the west
And throws his latest values to the wolves

He takes more than a touch of Komarovsky
Asking the oldest question: “What’s in it for me?”

*character from 1957 Russian novel Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

We Greatly Value Your Opinion—Except When We Don’t

I. We Love Hearing from You!

Dear Book Lover,

Thank you for being a part of our panel.
We appreciate having a group of book lovers
That we can learn from! We have crafted a fun
And interactive survey related to books

About health, well-being, and spirituality,
And we would appreciate If you would
Take part as we greatly value your opinion.
The survey should take no longer than

5-10 minutes of your time. We hope
You’ll participate – we love hearing from you!

Warm regards,

The Penguin Random House Reader Insight Team

II. We’re Looking for a Different Type [sniff] of Reader

Thank you for your interest in participating.
We’re looking for a different type of reader
For this survey, but we hope to hear from you
Another time!

You Can’t Unpack a Poem

You can’t unpack a poem; it’s not your luggage
Or the metaphorical carry-on of your spirit
Homeland Security doesn’t search your poetry
It isn’t stamped “Passed by Inspector #3”

You can’t unpack a poem; it’s not even yours
If you read it, it was given to you
If you wrote it, you sent it to the world
And beyond the world, out into the universe

You can never unpack a poem because
Poetry is not luggage—it is life

More than a Container for Words
“The book was so much more than a container for words inscribed on pages”
-David Rundle

A container for words; there’s something in that
For if it contains words, it contains dreams
Your portable dreams, your vade mecum
In code, waiting to be interpreted

A container for words, humming with life
With verbs wanting to pour out all the nouns
And fling the adjectives in front of them
With conjunctions and adverbs (only a few)

A container for words, a book, your book
Which you began writing when you were born

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