Ulysses at the Red Dog

As we approached the kennel from the road I could see that the canines were loose.

One big golden retriever bolted toward us, and several other mongrels followed closely behind. Before we knew it we were surrounded by the pack in the middle of the road.

—Give us the paw! Give us the paw, doggy! Good old doggy. Give us the paw here! Give us the paw!

The man who barked them back wore netting over his cap and face. I wasn’t sure until he lifted the veil and I could see his weather-worn visage. He had greyed a bit over the years since last I saw him, but his eyes still sparkled.

So of course the citizen was only waiting for the wink of the word…

“Hello Mike McGuiness,” I said, offering him my hand.

I could tell from the look in his eye that he couldn’t place me.

“We met here on this very road eight years ago, if it wasn’t ten,” I said, introducing myself. “This is my son, whom you’ve never met.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Mike said.

“The last time we met we had a conversation about James Joyce’s critical writings,” I told him. “I got hold of a copy of the book you recommended and read it through.”

“You did? Well, well,” Mike said. “Have you read Ellman’s biography?”

“Years ago.”

“I’m in the middle of it now,” he said. “In the first chapter he’s got a quote from Joyce’s 1902 essay on James Clarence Mangan. I recognized it as soon as I read it. You know Mangan? He was an Irish poet from the 19th century, died a narcotic addict. Joyce thought he was one of Ireland’s best.”

“I’d have to go back and reread the essay,” I said.

“We did another Bloom’s Day this year,” Mike said.

“The last Joyce celebration I attended was on his birthday at Paperback Alley in South Windsor. That was years ago. They had a sheet cake decorated with a long lazy S—

Stately plump, Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead…

“And I remember a woman did a dramatic reading of part of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.”

“Yeah,” Mike said. “They always include an excerpt from that. Tomorrow we’ve got a fund-raiser going at the Wallace Stevens house in West Hartford. They’re trying to raise enough money to buy it. We put up the stone markers for his blackbird poem several years ago.”

“I saw the article in the Times,” I said. “Funny thing; I was just rereading Stevens not that long ago.”

“Well, I’ve got to get these beasts back in the kennel,” Mike said. “Nice talking with you two.”

Gob, the citizen made a plunge back into the shop.

My son and I continued on our circuitous walk and ended up on the porch back home.

That evening I pulled my copy of the critical writings off the shelf and found the essays on Mangan. There were two: one from 1902, the other from 1907. I didn’t have a copy of the Ellman biography to check it against, but I surmised that he must have referenced the final paragraph in the first piece. I copied it out.

Beauty, the splendour of truth, is a gracious presence when the imagination contemplates intensely the truth of its own being or the visible world, and the spirit which proceeds out of truth and beauty is the holy spirit of joy. These are realities and these alone give and sustain life. As often as human fear and cruelty, that wicked monster begotten by luxury, are in league to make life ignoble and sullen and to speak evil of death the time is come wherein a man of timid courage seizes the keys of hell and of death, and flings them far out into the abyss, proclaiming the praise of life, which the abiding splendour of truth may sanctify, and of death, the most beautiful form of life. In those vast courses which enfold us and in that great memory which is greater and more generous than our memory, no life, no moment of exaltation is ever lost; and all those who have written nobly have not written in vain, though the desperate and weary have never heard the silver laughter of wisdom. Nay, shall not such as these have part, because of that high, original purpose which remembering painfully or by way of prophecy they would make clear, in the continual affirmation of the spirit?

“In those vast courses which enfold us and in that great memory which is greater and more generous than our memory, no life, no moment of exaltation is ever lost…”

The following morning a phrase from a song grabbed me: catch me up in your story.

That coupled with the sentence from the Joyce quote gave me the inspiration for the toast I delivered later that evening at my son’s wedding.

So here’s to you, Mike McGuiness, and may you be in heaven a good half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.


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