Andrei Codrescu

A Bookstore in Hay-on-Wye
November 2, 2013 Codrescu Andrei

A Bookstore in Hay-on-Wye


In a Tudor castle now a vast used bookstore in Hay-on-Wye

I came upon a mid-19th century library of one William Terrence Wordling

sold together by the estate and shelved alphabetically by a clerk,

not yet sorted, truly seen or read, authored it seemed by British surgeons

vacationing abroad, or traveling clergy with a yen for rock castles and caves


I pulled at random now one then another of this horde

about places that wars had long wiped off the map of Europe

avoiding as I leafed through them the pencilled marginalia

in a hand so tiny it defied my eyes, but in the end, intrigued


I used the magnifying glass of my Swiss-does-it-all tool

pressed to Worlding’s notes, and found that they were in Latin!

A pretentious clergyman, I thought, writing in 1825 in a language dead

already the year Napoleon was defeated at Austerlitz

just as Jacques-Louis David finished his portrait

and many times dead since our century’s map-shredding wars


I read in my own primitive school-poor Latin that got suddenly

and for no good reason better. I started to fall under Worldling’s spell.

I didn’t see evening fall and I didn’t hear the bookstore clerk

apologizing for the hour and the need to shut down the castle


I made a deal with him: I’d give him my Rolex watch and promise

to be there first thing in the morning when he opened up

or he could keep it. Even so he demurred — a bit.

We open late in Wales, he said, you might be here all night and some.

It will be afternoon before we open he bookstore again.

I’ve had three espressos, I told him, I have no objection,

I eat no breakfast, I’ve had your English fish-and-chips today

I’m good for a U.S. week, but this marginalia interests me more

than food. I’m not afraid of ghosts , I’m sure the castle has plenty.

My cousin lives around here he can vouch for me, goodbye.

He took my Rolex and was gone leaving me a lantern to read by

because the electric bill he apologized is more per month

than all the books I sell, for all the hype of Hay-on-Wye.


I read William Terrence Wordling’s densely annotated Latin

into the night. His notes did not concern at all the page

on which they were written, or the printed text, had no connection

to the matter of the books as if he’d chosen them on purpose

for their indifferent content. The marginalia refered to itself

only. Worldling’s notes were a book of their own, a work

of occult philosophy shot through with poetry and equations.


When the clerk opened the castle in the morning

he saw the bookshelf empty

something he had often feared

no trace of the bearded American who had just simply disappeared

Andrei Codrescu ( has been a commentator on All Things Considered since 1983. He is an homme-de-lettres whose novels, essays and poetry have been infiltrating the American psyche since he emigrated from his native Romania to Detroit in 1965. He is the author of forty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, and the founder of Exquisite Corpse. He has received a Peabody award for the PBS version of his film Road Scholar, and has reported for NPR and ABC News from Romania (1989) and Cuba (1996). His new books are The Poetry Lesson,(Princeton) and Bibliodeath: My Archives (with Life in Footnotes) (Antibookclub).