The Home Place: Coming home - Colum McCann
The Irish Hospice Foundation asked some well-known people to contribute to its new book, ‘The Gathering: Reflections on Ireland’. This is Colum McCann’s contribution: ‘I did what anyone with a fondness for James Joyce would: I licked my thumb, picked up the crumb of Ulysses and ate it’
I had about a half hour to spend with him, alone, before others came in. I pulled up a chair and sat beside him.
One of Brendan’s favourite lines from my own short stories: “Well fuck it anyway, we really need some new blood in midfield.”
And so I did, again, what anyone would do. I picked up the book and began to read.
Death takes away a lot of things, but it can’t ever take away our stories. This is the beauty of literature. Stories don’t die with us. They live on. Literature is, in a very pure sense, the place where we learn to remain alive.
I do not know what page that solitary crumb fell from when I visited the New York Public Library. Who knows what chapter of Ulysses it came from? Who knows what might have become of it – thrown in the rubbish, or swept away, or maybe even kept in a plastic bag by one of the librarians to be cherished? It hardly matters. It is long gone. I ate it. Fair enough.
And although I don’t know what might have happened to that flake of paper if I had left it there, I do know what I read to Brendan Bourke when I sat with him in the funeral home in Fairview, and perhaps part of it belonged to that flake. I leaned over the coffin and picked the book from off his chest. I opened it up and went straight to the What Is a Nation? section, where Bloom argues with the Citizen. “Ireland,” said Bloom, “I was born here, Ireland.”
The time ticked away, as time does. But I wanted a little more for him, my pal. So I sat by Brendan’s coffin and flicked forward in the book and read to him the filthiest, naughiest, dirtiest, most wonderful parts of Molly’s soliloquy. To give him a bit of a smile for the beyond. To send him off with a laugh.
Just imagine that. To die with a laugh.
Colum McCann’s novels include This Side of Brightness, Zoli and Let the Great World Spin. His latest novel, Transatlantic, was published in June