On Fishing

My brother stopped by my mother’s house to pick up his kids. He had been fishing up at the spillway at the lake since early that morning. It had been a chilly day, and he told us a story about how he’d been standing out on an outcropping of rocks when a large swell of water had washed over him, and how all the other fishermen along the banks had laughed at him. He said he didn’t leave to warm up in the car because he’d lose his spot. He told me about how one could sink one’s bait swiftly to the bottom of the outlet if you hit it just right; how the water rolled out from the walls of the outlet to meet in the middle, and how this action created special spaces of stillness, both on the surface and beneath the water, and how that space beneath the water, where the concrete walls of the outlet met the floor, was where the fish would gather to rest, and where he could expertly sink his large minnow bait, slicing through the contending push and pull of roiling water.

"Fish 1" by Danielle Nelisse
“Fish 1” by Danielle Nelisse

On The Desert

The desert works, it operates or functions in a certain way, except – no the vagueness of this “certain” way is perfectly appropriate for its problematic subject-verb claim. Which makes me wonder if the desert works like a language – but no: this essay is about the desert. And it doesn’t “work.” At best I’ll cobble together an assemblage of possible verbs that show something about it, or how I think about it, or what it makes me think.

Just out of reach of my apprehension of it is what I simply deduce to be what is going on: networks of living organisms comprising its texture, the what must’ve been about how these bluffs look like this and those cliffs look like that. Like the dark lofty Rockies to the east with their shining white caps I can only wonder, even as I am privileged to move through it on roads, at sunset or sunrise.

Bonnie Desert

The roads must’ve altered things profoundly, in all these ways outside of my apprehension. The red rocks aren’t rusty, they’re not exactly blood-colored, they look like I want something to have done something to them in order to live, but I suspect that they’re the closest things to agents on the landscape, the most powerful ones.

It isn’t the idea of the desert’s alien indifference, but the apprehension of it that is significant: that were I to walk a lonely wash and feel its desert soil walls with my hands I might’ve been the only human ever to have done so, or seen this blade of grass, or that a thousand miles away the anxieties of real life still make their presence known to me, in the form of some sort of invisible pressure, while remaining unregistrable to the rocks. There is an inarticulable value differential here, two separate all-intents-and-purposes, and they coexist separately, like the fact that I both do and do not want to run away and disappear into the desert because maybe that is what it is telling me: that there is no running away.

The flowers are delicate, its stalk and leaves and the lizards are tough, the rocks hide things, dance around moments of disclosure and suggestion, rest in a difficult-to-apprehend space that is equidistant and remote from both static and fluid. It’s not that it can’t register hyperbole (that would only return us to it), but that I can’t seem to know what it is that I’m looking at.

But it is just that fuzzy under-texture that I touch, that I feel, or that touches me, that I move through.


Untitled, dated “4/28/15”

let the coffee do its work

blood and the simple placing

of bodies into clothing, that

this or that is a scourge or


we might liken this

to the frustration

of having approximation

as one’s goal, or only


approximate enough of what

can only be approximated and

someday we’ll have filled out

the universe.

having deployed this faculty

I might then see where I

stand, but does it matter?

Its after-the-factness can’t

change what is/ what must

always be, can it?

Besides the problem of the other

we have this: that for this

act there is a suitable object


spaces to be filled

that hold what you fill it with

that you’re filling in the first place


let the coffee do its work

next to the question of a

necessary aloneness, that

of doing something like

thinking in a

speaking in a

language that is

as-of-yet non-interfaceable

with those of what’s come

to be the world


but that is precisely the point

that coffee does its work

that this deployment is

from and out onto materiality


that there are breasts slung

in brassieres, confused and

disappointed pensises caught up

in worn undergarments

buttholes and things painted

white for the shininess

lines of cops against crowds

of anger, hot like coffee

in its pot


my desire goes nowhere today

is not known by its frustration

nor its piqued interest

only I remember small wounds

that I can’t remember how they happened

the seeming nature of inconsequentiality

that poetry is also like a lab report

considering its own forwardness,, tied

to my own deployment out and into a



a world that meets me gently today

up to and against my knowledge of it

as concrete, cold, violence; instead no

it’s cool. A pale East Bay light seems

to pull its hardness back into something

like a dream


a police officer writing poetry

with his baton

in Arabic on my body, gently


poetry that I now must translate


into a world of languages

with too many right angles


too abrupt to ever allow

for the possibility that a cop

might make anything beautiful

with his baton, of my ribs


there is no analog

in the world

for the names of the dead


no color to fill the space

between possible meanings and

things that were meant


those who are both visible

and unseen are yet registerable

by bullets of all sorts



and hope works for many

that they might be forgotten


hope works against us

when our language is anger


when the streets of Baltimore

throb for the blood and glass

of those who would blot them out


the page longing to be filled

with a new language, heretofore

unreadable, now articulated

in all the cries against the

police, and the president,

and the state