Bill Mawhinney

Don’t Laugh at My Library


When you sift through my office after I die
you’ll confront a wall of poetry books.

I hope you won’t snicker like I did
when I dismantled my boyhood home

and found forty pairs of black socks
in Dad’s dresser drawer. Why so many?

If you wonder that about my books,
just know I couldn’t part with steady companions,

summoned round my heart to hold at bay the howling roar
of the bullshit train that clanged past my door.

The wall studs buzzed with honeyed hives
of language stored on these shelves.

Before they go to Goodwill, riffle their pages,
glance at my underlines.

There’s where my soul snagged, where
shards of reflected majesty

sang their fierce clarity
through lines of inert ink.

These shelves bulge with poems
that gave me the gumption to pull up my socks

and stride through the turning world.
So, for pity’s sake, don’t scoff too harshly.

With each passing year and each passionate purchase
this library was the brightest utterance

I had at my disposal. When I read them,
I was their audience. When I didn’t,

they became mine.


“Don’t Laugh at My Library” is reprinted from Cairns Along The Road (2009).


BILL MAWHINNEY lives with his wife Wanda, an abstract painter, and two cats in Port Ludlow.  He organizes and hosts Northwind Reading Series in Port Townsend, performs poetry in local retirement homes, tends his Japanese garden and talks with herons while combing the Olympic Peninsula beaches.