Oneiromance (an epithalamion) by Kathleen Rooney
A Review by Michelle Galo
Kathleen Rooney's Oneiromance (an epithalamion) is a dream sequence, a story with alternative plotlines and settings converging on a single conclusion. Its three backdrops—Brazil, the American Midwest, and Niagara Falls—evoke from the perspective of an American bride the exotic, the familiar, and the perilous. Her dream journey through these locales is one of language, landscape, identity, danger and love. The title is the reader's first stop on this tour. Oneiromance is derived from oneiromancy, divination through dreams; an epithalamion is a song in honor of a newly wedded couple.
Oneiromance is a sequence of sequences, lyrical-narrative and musical from its opening, with such lines as: “carries a copy of the Oneirocritica / by Artemidorus. Next: a chorus. A stadium / radiant with kliegs.”
The first sequence, “Brazilian Wedding” opens on two sister brides wandering the streets, their grooms absent. All around the wandering sisters are icons of sex and coupling: a pregnant girl, nursing mothers “flinging their breasts out like udders,” “dogs copulating” in the streets. The speaker dreams of becoming a nun instead of marrying. She and her sister hide in foreign streets, in kitchens, even after their unions are blessed.
True to the title of her book, Rooney delights in wordplay, and as a character in her own poem she plays with language in her dream landscape:
I pop the G out of bridge
& drop it in the bay. I say
bride aloud. G is for groom,
but R is for Rooney & R
is for room. This is not
a western. This is not
a noir. Our grooms don't
know where we are.
In two groom sequences, the men take on their own dream adventures, characterized by urgent longing and sometimes by force:
The groom & his trusty sidekick the groom
kick down doors at the Hotel Camboa.
They are gambling the rooms will contain
Further violences surface in the midwestern bride's dream when her groom shapes his fingers into a gun at her back. She detaches herself: “The bride with my face cries ... The bride smears her mascara.” A few poems later, at an American Legion reception, she regains her sense of identity: “it's hard to tell one bride from her sister, // but I assure you darling, I'm pretty sure I'm me.”
In the honeymoon poems, the bride and groom become we. The groom speaks and invites his bride: “O, touch my face! Tie your shoe / & regard the place I've dreamed for us.” Later: “Here's / us arrayed in barrels. I will fall, / I will fall forever with & for you.”
The last sequence is a vacation to Niagara Falls, poetry as scrapbooking, and the bride and groom still struggling to symbolize themselves and their shared union:
You are the nonpareil—the girl to end
all other girls. I am your oyster.
I am the diver. I am the jeweler.
You are the pearl.
The settled-upon icon? Marriage as going over the falls in a barrel. “Waterfalls = sex, you say. All that / thundering, that pounding, / that resounding foam.” But there seems to be more to this analogy than the groom's truism. As the couple crosses the Canadian border: “Rigorous border controls that weren't there / before. C'est la vie. C'est la guerre. C'est Septembre. C'est l'amour.” A brief epilogue, an “Epithalamion,” ends this meditation on personal border control with a proclamation of simple yet coy honesty: “You'll ask a million times if I really love you / & each time I reply, the answer will be true.”
Rooney uses the dream sequence cunningly: amidst the vivid landscapes, she periodically reminds us that she (and hence, the reader) is dreaming. The dreams are multiple, parallel, mutually exclusive realities, and throughout the book there is a sense of something unknown. Yet any truths that may lie beneath Rooney's colorful dreamscapes are less important than the dreams themselves and their lyrical, playful responses to serious questions of identity and union. Oneiromance deserves a place among the great love literature of our time.