At the James Joyce House

Anton Yakovlev

This is what I wanted to let you know:
when I came home last night, I found my building repainted:
property management had renamed it
from Ocean Plaza Apartments to James Joyce House,
probably trying to boost the rentals next year.

Neon lights above the front door displayed the new name 
in genuine Joyce handwriting,
and all the condos had been rearranged
the way James Joyce would have done it.

The desk from which I had recited to you
our surrealism was replaced 
with something faux Victorian.
The dining chairs were also Joycean:
an introductory booklet I found on the dinner table
made a big deal of the way they were stylized
so closely to his living room
you’d think he’d sat on every last one of them.

In the bathroom, the shells we had picked up
waddling for years around Cape Cod
were replaced with a single crumbling clam shell—
but that shell bore a genuine autograph of James Joyce.
The booklet boasted that property management
had handed me an antique worth twenty thousand dollars
just to pay me back for the inconvenience
of rearranging my rooms and throwing out half my things.

Honored as I am, this morning I spent two hours
looking for a rusty nail to dip into my Jameson—
the rustier the better.

I have no TV to distract me—
James Joyce didn’t have one. So now neither do I.

The memory foam mattress on which we had lost
our virginities had been taken away,
now in a landfill. Not that I mind, of course. 

And yet tears come out of my eyes for some reason
and I take walks to inspect the building’s dead ends
looking for spots intact from remodeling,
trying to get back to a past that included you.

If you were here, though, the autograph of James Joyce 
would have made it all worth it: you would have wept 
on my shoulder to be so close to your hero.

I would have tried to talk to you about us,
but you would have circled back to “The Dead,”
to Leopold Bloom’s unsavory diet,
to the goat-like creatures Stephen Dedalus had dreamed up.

A panther would have shrieked outside the window just then,
as we kissed, and you would have turned
your eyes to look at it,
acting like I wasn’t even present.

That’s okay, I’d say to myself.
At least you are here.