The Hay Sonata

at Hay-on-Wye, the second-hand bookshop capital

For all the world like a transit camp: the long rooms
housing simply thousands of battered, closed-up individuals.
And all the while the experts sight-see: anthropologists, historians, polyglots
eavesdropping, totting up, replacing;
and other trespassers have a field-day gawking at numbers,
or at camp conditions, or trying to work out the logistics
behind the scheme of gradual displacement; and some
are here who just like a good story.

But these wanderers
have a story, each one, that yields to no perusal,
that never can be told, from the rare early bible
to the limited edition of poems typed in a garage;
and even in the boxes of trite and dog-eared paperbacks,
six for a pound, lie the tattered ghosts
of a treasured shelf in a boy’s bedroom, or the quick fingers
of a grandmother in the laundrette re-reading for the twelfth time
an old romance, that was flung out when she died.

These are the million mute inhabitants of Hay
(population 1,300) who in truth have fetched up here
as a last resort: to die themselves for the most part,
still sold as combustible material, or pulped, or got rid of
in a kind of final read by erasing Time:
the mauling of customers and the pressures of space,
the action of the atmosphere turns good words to dust.

So the tourists come to Hay, who cannot match
in their cheerful Pringle jerseys the faded jackets;
whose words as fresh as toothpaste are merest babble
beside the considered sentences of the past.
And a number of refugees are re-adopted;
so the alchemy of individual possession
again makes room for an author to be heard
and composition prized.

Soon the computer
will overwrite the lot; but now, if you come to Hay,
hear a sonata of the wild spectrum of leaves
of the forest of the human mind waving and blazing.

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