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