The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2012

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MAR 2012 Issue

from Periodic Companions

I am merely a smudge of ash. Adamant, along the line of anyone’s lashes. Hands. Mouth. Impenetrable, something you crush between your fingertips. The cold dregs of yesterdays hearth. A dark fomentation, unyielding, someone to draw with, to mark the outlines of afternoons. A cutting tool. All of my companions light me, decorate my dark mask. It is their flare you see in the red of my lip, a lozenge-shaped figure on a playing card. It is their splash of color or blaze of light which animates my diametrical opposites. I crumble. I stare. I am common but I carry with me a reliable line.


HG looked at us a bit venomously but we were used to his “bookings” as he called them.

Oh, he would say, you’ve definitely earned it. A summary of your reservation has been sent. He knew that we weren’t to be congratulated and enjoyed talk of how we had to rebook ourselves into everyday reality. He noted that nothing was automatically returned to our accounts, as if we had any accounts with him. We did because he said so. And we were all okay with this. When things went awry we were told to review our trip details. And that’s how we knew we had been anywhere, or were about to depart. And because we couldn’t afford to travel much it worked for us to be a part of this ongoing simulation. We were very self-reliant in this way.  No one else knew and we felt privileged considering that the Insiders and the Other Possibles and the Determinants could only go somewhere only on an expense account or a grant or an invitation.

 Today HG kept repeating the word “eviscerated” as if it meant everything. He picked up Bolano and read aloud his own version: “I am eviscerated now, but I still have many things to eviscerate. I used to be eviscerated with myself. Quiet and eviscerated. But it all blew eviscerated quite unexpectedly.”

O gave him a scathing look. I could tell that H was about to bolt up from her chair and intervene but then HG’s look softened and he said, still holding the Bolano, that wizened youth is eviscerated. O squinted as if to better understand his meaning and HG put down the book. Then HG offered helpfully, I’m just translating you know, and this text has already been translated at least once. I’m translating into this eviscerated moment.

O asked what was so very eviscerated about it? We all wished simultaneously that O had not asked this question, because we knew that HG had been compulsively reading everything regarding the shooting and subsequent legislation in process which would enable the carrying of guns onto school campuses. This was just HG’s way of parading a particular brand of discontent. He had many modes of discontent, and our “bookings” or evisceration seemed pleasantly mild, relatively speaking, and so I knew that we all simultaneously had wished because when this happens the old glass in the parlour window shudders. We call it a “parlour” only because the glass is old and wavy, and we imagine we might have fine times in a parlour. When we heard the glass vibrating it was obvious that our wish worked because HG began his etymological pacing, which is always a sign that he is moving slowly downward, descending whatever peak of “bookings” we have been given.

He began: abate, 1620s, attenuate, from Latin. evisceratus, “to disembowel,” blunt, viscera, internal organs. Cramp, cripple, Sometimes used in seventeenth century in a figurative sense. Dampen, deaden, debilitate, (devitalize, draw, enfeeble) secrets of exhaust, extenuate, gruel. Lay low, mitigate, rattle, sap, shake, unbrace, unstring, weaken.

When he had finished with this list he sat and lifted his hands to his face and began to rub. At this point H did come and sit beside him. She didn’t say a word, but he soon began to talk about the Insiders and the Other Possibles and the Determinants and she said what about them, before he could add to his list of complaints. What about them, he asked indignantly and we all feared we were about to be booking again. But then noting all of our attention he began to talk.

There had been an icy undone shoulder at the Institute where he had had some meeting or other to attend. A young writer who wanted to know more about his poem which mused largely upon Jupiter, fulminations, oak cleaving and sheet lightning. It had been published by a local micro press and carefully sewn in a very small number, yet it was superior in every way to many of the shiny, perfect bound covers among which it was carelessly nestled. He had gone and after his highly enjoyable interview several icy shoulders had walked by and definitively had not said hello to him. The breadth of the ice upon the shoulders was unbelievable. It was as if everyone were wearing a large mantle of ice almost like a kind of armor upon royalty with epaulets, cloaks and capes.

What he had done to inspire such treatment was a unfathomable. H interrupted and said that it was unfathomable because it was unknowable and it was unknowable because the Insiders didn’t know themselves. It was just their general practice to go around wearing such junk. Though it must be cold and uncomfortable. H looked a bit worried as she said this, as if their gleaming mantles might be the cause of coldness, upper respiratory infections or even exhaustion and therefore poor decision making. O broke in and said that it must be in the job description to have to wear such frigid glossy mantles, and what sort of booking had HG expected? After all he needn’t meet the young writer in the Institute. This was true, but it was also true that we did all want to be as near to the books as possible. We longed for all of the books, the small and lavishly stitched as well as the glossy tomes and small straight spines all lined up as if in an apothecary, even if it did mean risking the brush of the icy mantle. This was all just the backdrop or the backroom or the dropout fade-in accounting for how HG had come to choose “eviscerate” as his word of the day. There was behind this rancid tale that of the shooting and whatever was in the papers today besides. I for one had not dared to look. I hoped for no physical blemishes to be added to my person beyond those which would present themselves from my listening alone.


Periodic Companions is a novel with characters based on the periodic table of elements. Relationships are based upon chemistry, and characters investigate poetics, contemplative practices, and outsider culture. Overwhelmed with the futility of institutional structures, and impelled to act in response to epidemics in mental instability, and a tragic act of violence, the elemental characters create a collective action based upon chemical signaling, in the hopes of inventing a new context for non-violent protest.


Laynie Browne

Laynie Browne’s recent publications include a collection of poems Translation of the Lilies Back into Lists (Wave Books 2022) and the anthology A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on The Poet’s Novel (Nightboat 2021). Forthcoming are two more collections of poems, Letters Inscribed in Snow (Tinderbox) and Apprentice to a Breathing Hand (Omnidawn.) Honors include a Pew Fellowship, and the National Poetry Series Award. She teaches and coordinates the MOOC Modern Poetry at University of Pennsylvania.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2012

All Issues