I am not entirely convinced that Roxane Gay is a single entity. I intend to find out at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, where she will sit for panels and interviews on both Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23
Can something be a portrait if it hasn’t got a face? The straw-hatted man of indeterminate age wears threadbare blue pants and a birdcage-ribcage, well-used black shoes on his resting feet. Loulou the Pomeranian was there when the master let himself be photographed in the same pose, but with a canvas for his torso. A red blanket drapes where the man’s head and neck and shoulders would be, and he appears to have arms, and definitely hands: the left clutching a burlap satchel, stitched and bulging, the right a cane.
One could translate the title as “the therapist,” but Loulou prefers “the healer.” Mending the mind to find vastness inside the shell of an egg, immensity within the bars of a cage. A bird is tiny in the widening of the sky. Loulou is small, but his shadow stretches tall before him when he, the master, and Georgette take a walk near sunset.
The man’s chest-cage is open, but the two white doves don’t fly away: pensive fragility and a chosen inbetweenness. Captivity, perhaps, is the goal of art—to delay the audience and hold them captive.
Georgette and the master have always opted to live on the first floor in order to have a garden for their series of dogs, all called Loulou, who frolic among the geraniums and lantanas. But so too does Loulou like to go outside, and he drools at the sight of the healer’s walking stick. Is Loulou in captivity? Are Magritte and Georgette? All set in place by their enchantment with each other. Behind the healer: the sea and the diffuse light of solitude rising over the horizon.
Loulou’s therapy is flânerie. You can’t see it in the painting because the man is sitting, but Loulou understands it’s the healer’s too. The relationship between desire and its obstacles temporarily resolved in the daily rhythm of walk and sit and walk and sit.
Le Coup au Coeur
This blow to the heart looks like something you’d see inked on a sailor’s bicep: a creamy pink rose clutching a gold-handled knife. Loulou the Pomeranian would have to be shaved somewhere on his dog-body to have a tattoo, and if he ever were to do so, this is the image he would get. The pretty flower puts Loulou in mind of a pirate, arrived by sea, standing on the shoreline, and brandishing a dagger. She doesn’t want to use it, but she will—just try her. She is ready to fight, and yet so regal. Loulou, too, is a lover, not a fighter. And when he is home here with Magritte, with Georgette, his heart is as full as an overcrowded purse. He nurses no ill-will. But if their shared domestic happiness were to fall under threat, his pom teeth are as sharp and surprising as any switchblade.
Le Musée d’une Nuit
If the museum is only to last for one night, then okay, it’s a one-night museum: the museum of a night. Perhaps posterity is overrated anyway. One day, when they were talking, the master said to Loulou the Pomeranian, “I don’t want to belong to my own time, or for that matter any other.”
Tidy in a shadowbox, the scale is debatable, but Loulou chooses to believe that the exhibits are tiny: a severed hand, an apple, a form like a shoe, and a fourth compartment obscured by a screen. Personally, Loulou cannot get enough of boxes, stuffing his fluffy being inside their confines and feeling safe, waiting for Georgette to come and find him. Making himself a gift: Here I am!
Loulou knows that some people can barely bear a finger laid on their shoulder—what cringe and shock! But if you’re a pom, you are always getting scooped up and petted, swooped up and talked to, and you love it, hopefully. At least Loulou does.
This box is open, like a stage: one could grab the three contained items. The hidden display in the one-night museum’s lower-right—how Loulou longs to bite through the paper to see what’s inside, but there’s nothing inside! There isn’t any paper. It’s just a painting. Loulou hears his own bark echoing from the void, but Loulou doesn’t panic—he thanks the master for this momentary stay of time and does not try to explain the mystery away.
He does mention, though, to the master something Baudelaire said that this museum calls to mind, about how materials speak a mute language, like flowers, skies, and sunsets. How furniture appears to dream, seeming endowed with somnambulist life. That, Loulou guesses, is why this museum lasts one night, as opposed to one day.
Objects seem more able to speak at night. The master tells Loulou to listen to what they say, and Loulou hears them talking in the subjunctive mood, the master’s favorite: dwelling on what might happen.
The death of an artist can mean life for his art, pushing a reputation toward its destined destiny. The master is dying, Loulou the Pomeranian can see. Soon his body will be empty of poetry. Soon his form will contain no riddle. Little Loulou will look at it and say, Poor thing, because a thing it will be.
The master in bed beneath a wool blanket—though it’s August—makes Loulou recall a painting from 1938, almost thirty years prior. The vacant landscape is flat. Another way to say it is without relief. A white sun above a desert and a plain marble block: a flat slab with three smooth steps to the top. Is it a monument? Is it a grave? The master named the painting The Beyond.
The master who loves dogs, but hates dogmas. The master who is agnostic. The master who is in his own bed—Georgette at his side, brushing his white hair from his sweating forehead—in their shared apartment, after a short stay in a hospital, the worst time of Loulou’s life: No Dogs Allowed. Georgette vowed they’d all be together when he died, and Loulou could die of thanks to her for reuniting them.
Loulou wonders if what’s happening to the master is a caesura, or a stop? A hop like Loulou makes over a fence, then another side? But no matter how he longs to, Loulou can’t follow. Beyond like, “Your ticket is not valid beyond this point.” Depending on the translation, it could be called The Hereafter. On the bedside table, next to their books, is a glass that Georgette has filled for the master, but he’s past feeling thirsty.
Loulou sits in Georgette’s lap. Georgette holds the master’s hand and waits. And they have an evocation of mystery, but not a revelation. They have a foreboding and not an explanation. You drop the pill of reality into the water of possibility and you watch it dissolve. A sensation somewhere between time and eternity.
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Co-editor with Eric Plattner of The Selected Writings of René Magritte, forthcoming from Alma Books and University of Minnesota Press, she is the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel O, Democracy! (2014). Her second novel, What Makes You Seek Your Fortune Here, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017. @KathleenMRooney1