Laynie Browne


“Architecture again. It always comes to that. I can never get inside it; the singing structure eludes me. All my life, I swear that this has been true: I look at a shape, then look out into the world for the contents to fill it, but the thing I bring back does not fit— it more than not-fits, it destroys the shape altogether.”
—Renee Gladman

Implicit is the hypothesis that all atoms of a given element behave in exactly the same way, irrespective of place and epoch. — Rosmarie Waldrop

“I could no longer ignore the fact that chemistry itself, or at least that which we were being administered, did not answer my questions.”
— Primo Levi, from The Periodic Table

with tender purloined sunlight
at winter’s lip
— Lisa Jarnot

“Still we must ask the name of a water that does not wet the hand, identify the wingless bird, decipher messages whitely written on stone. So a promise stands before our eyes. Ante oculos stabat quidquid promiserat annus.”
— Evan S. Connell, from The Alchymist’s Journal

Characters are based on periodic table of elements

C = Carbon
P = Phosphorus
HG= Mercury
O = Oxygen
H = Hydrogen
AS = Arsenic
AG = Silver
S = Sulfur
MG = Magnesium
NA = Sodium

Periodic Companions is a prose work 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.

I would not be myself without the city. The city perplexed.

I did not long for material things or even the lives of others but for the idea of a life that was not purely singular— to live vicariously and enmeshed, sleeping tangled in a puzzle of perspectives. What I wanted was not to be only myself, meaning I wanted to see from vantages not limited by my own. There is nothing singular in this desire except that I was often surrounded by people who wished only the opposite. Narcissistic or solipsistic— I wanted none of it— which was why certain periodic companions were irreplaceable. All of us flawed in our insistence in one way or another, myself in what P called, my habits of outskirts, or idealizing a type of intimacy that works best in theory.

At AG’s gatherings we were becoming regulars. P was tentative when she attended. Often, it was myself, H and HG. O was against these gatherings but always wanted to know everything that happened. I wasn’t sure if this was because he was secretly curious or if he only wanted to be able to critique and dismiss. He did not trust AG, and because he had never met AG, you could say that he did not trust the idea of AG, as opposed to the person. This seemed ridiculous to me but still we obliged O by recounting to him our visitations.

Don’t call it a placeholder, said H. What then, we asked. “G,” she would say. “Place” I would echo. But then O came up with a recalibration of our earlier garnet or garret calling our visits the garish haunts. This couldn’t have been further from our imagined “we.” During this period I called our visits haunts. Often we were at AG’s loft and the set up was cushions on the floor and a dilapidated samovar filled with strong tea. We milled about, sat in silence and finally listened to someone talk or perform. At first we remained in the back, with no entrée into deeper recesses.

I developed a series of questions I wanted to ask but noted that questions were often not answered. Often there were unanswerable questions regarding political violence. Some asked questions which were too personal to be addressed in company. Many just wanted to hear themselves talk and did not articulate questions. After a time I noticed that something had changed in relation to the haunts. I began to depend on these excursions mostly for the periods of silence.

Some of my questions dissolved, others emerged and I could hear them cascading in various formations but they did not urgently press. Rather, they were the kind of questions with which one must co-exist. I didn’t expect AG or anyone else to answer them. I didn’t understand how the silence had changed me and H had similar experiences which we couldn’t discuss in language. Without speech we sympathized with each other’s non-material thoughts. If I tried to describe them here I would certainly fail and in this failure is a kinship with the failed project of trying to articulate a placeholder for what we could never name. Instead of struggling with this inability I inclined warmly toward our earlier losses, the days spent gazing at a blank page, walking the streets in search of tiny words scrawled to stand in for all that we did not say.