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Joyce and the Lions

by William Miller


In Dublin, he dreamed he was a stag

chased by hunters with tradesmen’s faces.

The crowd, the mob, had no use for antlers,

thoughts that were different from theirs,

thoughts beyond O’Connell Street, the stench

of the Liffey that drew seagulls by the thousands.


Thoughts, points, on the stag’s brilliant head

made his heart hard enough to deny his mother

on a cancer bed the solace of knowing

he’d kneel at the altar rail, take the host again.

Three times he denied her like Peter.

The price of knowing, being chased,


hunted, was poor rooms in foreign cities

Nora said “weren’t fit to wash a rat in.”           

He outran them all: bill collectors, critics,

patrons who wanted only his soul

to cancel household debts. An arrow didn’t

kill him, one or a hundred, just a burst appendix,


though he danced an Irish jig three nights

before he died. He was buried near the zoo,

close enough to the lions who roared

in the twilight, their time to hunt and quickly kill,

as if they roamed wild on the savannahs,

as if the stag wasn’t mortal, running still.