The Modern Hagfish in Form
Kate Rutledge Jaffe

Winner of the 2011 Matt CLark Poetry Prize
selected by Johannes Göransson

We were young, okay?, and I was the only girl cousin. Our uncle sent us out with pickle jars and spools of twine to catch silt or kill the deer that ate his roses. The boys were fighting; Sammy threw a stone at Mark

and hit him in the head. We kept him awake all night with stories about the first animals. Vertebrates then, my uncle taught, had brains like uteruses, moose skulls flanked by horniness that hung

with bulbous shell-like tips. The early sharks resembled the modern hagfish in form – they had a skull but no vertebral column. Hagfish coil at the ocean floor. We call them “slime eels” and they don’t have eyes

but “eye spots” and their teeth are comb-like ridges that retract at will. With Mark well, from the morning river we tied cheese curds, sardines, bloody bits of worm to the line and sent them flipping

in the current. Mark said, I have one – they’re a’tuggin! Man the day’s alive! I felt I loved him then, my cousin, as he craned his neck and reeled in the stick. At the end of the line: a black boot, its hollow

filled with pebbles, and the delicate skeleton of a single baby trout. A boot on the end of a fishing line! We were sure it did not happen even as it was happening. That such a thing was too good to be true.