For Dionne Brand, or, Another Person in Another Place

by | Jul 21, 2023

Cloudy Sky, Mediterranean Sea (1857), Gustave Le Gray. Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Mysteries conjugate. Mystery conjugates. What becomes of clarity. In the final remove. Time as time. The past involves itself in the present to what degree? A unitary voice is always manifold, in combination.

He is drenched in things his father will never tell him. When he reads this line he wants to cry. His eyes well and tear, nothing more. Even when his father gets drunk he says little of consequence. So he is bitter.

Nothing fits. Out of depth he reaches for depth. He is a man, or not. He cannot be a man. Not if he knows the violence men carry.

You think to yourself. You think and you think. You remember your mother’s ancestors, mostly dead, dead. Your family is small, has been made small. You think to yourself. You are drenched in what you don’t understand, and yet you feel it in every bone, tendon, ligament, synapse, gesture. You carry this as much as it carries you. It is more like lead. It drags. You have eyes that cannot help but look. Your eyes aren’t in the ocean. They’ve been transmogrified into gaseous air. 

You think a life of loneliness and grief and loneliness for grief and grief for loneliness is what? You learn to laugh but you don’t learn to love. They are not the same. Everything reaches the surface. You terrify yourself. Do other people think these thoughts that you shan’t tell a soul? Are other people terrified of themselves. Libidinal economies might be the essence of the value form, you posit, and we’re all fucked. You cannot hold value in your hands, even as you become it.

You are a soft man. You’re not sure that you’re a man. You are a soft man. You aren’t sure that you’re a man. You are soft. You are laid out, eyes glazed. You are in another place entirely. Like Adrian. The two of you’d have gotten along. Two soft men. Maybe even loved one another. But you’re both broken into pieces. And you’ve both lost track. To make the pieces fit back together would be more than a miracle. You’ve longed for longing for too many years. Sometimes you long and this is your grace.

This concrete softness renders you beyond disrepair. It is something different. They say time moves in a linear fashion. You laugh at their ignorance. You laugh at his ignorance. The past is nothing, he says. You don’t understand his fury. Yet it courses through you. You temper and dampen it. You’ve no other choice.

You’re terrified all the time. Your ears, they keep popping. The pressures of a crystal gradient, forever wavering. The soft sharpness that accompanies the edge of desire. Even letters, phonetics, grammar, all of it. It all unsettles you. You look at her too many times. You feel like a creep, for looking. Only looking. You wonder what she thinks. Did she shun you for looking. You looked too many times, in awe of her beauty. You don’t even want to have sex with beautiful women. You just want to lie next to someone. You want to revel in beauty. You want her to enjoy your company and to desire you. Same as Adrian. You almost don’t even want sex. You do and you don’t. You want reciprocity. You want to share your softness and combine it with another’s.

A moment in time encased in brevity. What can we say modernity amounts to? A misplaced feeling, a gesture. Incalculable loss and the fog that follows.


You yearn for calm and the cost incurred is love.

You never find it. The cost incurred. It’s always love. 



Max Rothschild

Max Rothschild

Publab Fellow 2023

Max Rothschild is a graduate student in English literature at California State University, Los Angeles, and a substitute teacher. He is primarily interested in 20thcentury fiction, theory, and poetry. 

Gustave Le Gray


Trained in Paris as an academic painter, Gustave Le Gray gained renown for his revolutionary process of photographing seascapes. Because of technical limitations, photography could not satisfactorily depict sky and sea simultaneously; in a single image, the sky would appear washed-out, while the water looked too dark. Le Gray resolved this shortcoming by combining two negatives (one for sea and one for sky) made at different exposure times. Although this solution represented a manipulation of photographic technique, rather than being understood as duplicitous, it was seen as an expansion of the medium’s possibilities. Looking back at the most significant accomplishments in photography of 1857–58, Marc-Antoine Gaudin, a critic for the journal La Lumière, proclaimed Le Gray’s seascapes “the event of the year.” This photograph was originally bound with others in a single album, Vistas del Mar, comprising an extremely rare collection of these seascapes.

(This bio is courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)