My Own Private Ulysses: I’m a Little Teapot
“He turned from the tray, lifted the kettle off the hob and set it sideways on the fire. It sat there, dull and squat, its spout stuck out.”
– Ulysses, James Joyce
Bloom is our kettle.
Black-clad and dressed for death, yet within his cast-iron skin, he remains, in the immortal words of Bruce Lee, “like water.”
I have the musicality of a mudpuppy, but Joyce’s second sentence looks like something-pentameter to me. Is there a more simple, straightforward line in the Ulysses? But still sentences run deep. Joyce swells phrases and single words with crosscurrents.
The forward adjective is a Modernist matchup of opposites: exterior versus interior. While Mr. Leopold Bloom may appear “dull,” in public, once his private thoughts splash onto the shores of the page his dullness dies.
The aft adjective, “squat,” pits two other opposites: subjective versus objective. This bout takes place within the meaning of the word. American Heritage Dictionary’s clever editors wink their definition, “Short and thick; low and broad,” in single-syllable solidarity. At 11 stone and 4 pounds, (158 1bs in Yankee lingo) Paunchy Poldy is thicker than many of his thin fellow Dubliners. Professor Kenner reports that Leo’s 5 feet 9 ½ inches met the height prerequisite to be a policeman, who “looked like ‘giants’ to the general public.” This doesn’t stop the Dublin dingbats from belittling Bloom’s stature at every turn. Thick and broad? Yes. Short and low? Nope.
Now, the Plumetree’s Potted Meat of the subject. “Spout stuck out” completes the ten monosyllables leaving a small wake of rhyme behind its alliterative whitecap.
Bloom’s boom juts out through the long June day, deep into Nighttown, and beyond. He is at full mast when first setting sail from home in the eight o’clock hour of the Calypso episode. He eyes the nextdoor girl’s “vigorous hips” and telepathically hurries Dlugacz the butcher to “Hurry up, damn it,” so he can continue to ogle her “moving hams” outside. Later, he silently curses the annoying M’Coy for blocking his view of a “silk flash of rich stockings white.” He stoops to checking museum statues from the rear for anatomical accuracy. After sinking his eight ball playing pocket pool to girly Gerty MacDowell’s seaside peep show, he still remains unsated. He canoodles his way through Bella Cohen’s brothel while his fantasies comingle with reality in the wet nightmare that is the Circe episode. His last act before slumber is smooching the “plump mellow yellow smellow melons” of Molly’s rump.
The boy can’t help it. Say what you will about old Bloom, he needs no performance enhancing little blue pill. Kettle-like, he's reliable, functional, durable, hard.
Every morning, in the Calypso section of my Romansdays, I lift my electric kettle off the stand and set it sideways on the charger. It sits there, cracked and wrecked, its wire worn out.
Not sure what that says about me.