189.1: Kathleen Rooney:: Raminabrobis & Le Bain Cristal & l’Empire des Lumières 189

This is not a poem. Or so, Lou-Lou the Pomeranian and master René Magritte might posit. More than ekphrasis, this series of prose poems by Kathleen Rooney is a high-concept exercise in voice. If Magritte can put a giraffe in a cut-glass goblet, Rooney can put these surreal poems in the perspective of a precocious Pomeranian. Though these poems are drawn from the surrealist paintings with which they share titles, their content is more than observation or meditation. Rather, this vocal performance slips behind the paintings, looking at them not as beholder or artist, but as companion to the artist; it creates a tender portrait of the master, a real affection between the master and his dog. Moments of rhyme and word play beguile here, but not as reminders of the poet behind the pen; they are logical extensions of the wit and cheekiness with which Rooney imbues Lou-Lou. Rooney herself asks if the perspective of these poems is a little funny. And of course it is! But since when must poems be dead serious? These pieces are a little funny—and fun to read. Sure, the project risks frivolity or silliness, but its reward is a sheer childlike (or pup-like) delight. S. Whitney Holmes


The difference between cats and dogs is that cats have chins. Also, the master has never painted a dog. And yet, and yet – he and Georgette have never kept a cat. And don’t you forget it, thinks Lou-Lou their Pomeranian. They do raise canaries. Or budgies. Keep a neat house in a suburb of Brussels. Stick to a budget. Feather the nest with antique furnishings.

This cat is spattered in dappling sunlight. Gosh, it’s gouache, thinks Lou-Lou the Pomeranian. Then Gosh, it’s gauche to be jealous of one so cute. The cat is not just locomotive-sized; the cat is a locomotive, engining but idle. Abiding atop the tracks like some kind of augury, his fur as thick as an ermine robe. Or mine thinks Lou-Lou.

The impression the Impressionist cat gives is serene. Or vacant, if, like Lou-Lou, envy inclines you to be mean. Not Gargantua, not Pantagruel. Rabelaisian, yes, but the cat is neither scatological nor violent. Lou-Lou cannot write (no thumbs), but Lou-Lou can read: “The cat still exists in the twentieth century. The legend bursts into modern life,” Magritte wrote in his notes.

In the pentalogy, Raminagrobis was a poet and a judge. Cats are seen as more risqué. This cat is outside, yes. But there is still the sky. Lou-Lou extinguishes the flame of his jealousy. He and Raminagrobis are both quite tame, at home under the dome of domestication.

Le Bain Cristal

Four hooves click together in a dainty taper, tapping each other, tapping the cut-glass. The hooves are on the giraffe, the crystal on the savannah, the image on not canvas but paper. Lou-Lou the Pomeranian does not drink out of glasses like that, though he is delicate of snout. Lou-Lou has never been out under such magical desert light. A giraffe in a goblet. Are creatures hobbled by not being human? Lou-Lou thinks not. The giraffe looks nonplussed, but really, who wouldn’t?

Once, because Georgette had set about convincing him, she and the master and a pair of their friends hauled themselves to Holland to see a show of Frans Hals. “Our little dog cares not for the Dutch Golden Age,” claimed Magritte, not climbing the museum steps. As a matter of fact, Lou-Lou considers Hals the greatest painter of the color black the world has ever known. But he could never leave the master alone, so while Georgette and the friends went around the exhibition, Lou-Lou waited with him at a sidewalk café.

They drank advocaat, the master because he likes nogs, and Lou-Lou because dogs’ coats shine when they eat eggs. The master’s came in a goblet of cut-glass, and Lou-Lou’s in a saucer set next to the master’s outstretched legs. It had been a great day.

The title says “bath” but there isn’t any water around the giraffe. His hooves are the size of dinner plates. Baths Lou-Lou does not take but receives. So handsome after. How big is that glass? Is the point to bewilder? Or is it to be wilder. Surrounded by the circular eye of the sky.

l’Empire des Lumières

The master’s paintings do not come from dreams, but the master does require a great deal of sleep. Magritte is a cover yielder, Georgette a cover stealer, and so for hours the covers creep. Lou-Lou the Pomeranian, permitted at night to hop atop the bed unlike during the day, tosses softly in this close-eyed tug-of-war. Lou-Lou awakes with regular irregularity. Day-for-night. Night-for-day. He makes not a peep. The comforter is cumulus beneath the pads of his paws as he leaps to the floor. Patrols the perimeter of 135 Rue Esseghem, tiny monitor of the house and its contents, the house and its contentment. Barefloors and wallpaperiness and objects whose colors he can’t quite see. Poise and counterpoise. Oil and canvas. Lou-Lou, like all dogs, is kind of colorblind, but he sees well at night. Dogs have evolved to see even in the absence of light. Lou-Lou receives peace in watching these pieces of their sleep. They twitch and he wonders: What do they think they’re chasing? Dogs have evolved to love. If the master and Georgette were to rise, what they’d see might be just like in the painting: the somber concord of a nocturnal street beneath a pastel-bright sky cotton-candied with clouds.