The Robert Watson Literary Prize Poem ALASKAN CHARTER

Spring 2013: Issue 93

Kristin Robertson

Fishing the Kachemak takes

more than a hook in a mouth.


When the first catch, weighing

twice a grown man, fights back,


the gang of local fishermen

circle up to stop the thrashing.


After a club thunk to the head,

gaff to the side, the five men resort


to a curb stomp, a filleting knife

to the gill, then someone’s .410.


With bloodied shins, you wait

your turn. And then the young fish


they assign you suddenly squirms

in your hands like a newborn


from the womb, slick and risen

and held. You brace yourself


over the gunwale before the fishermen

form a crescent around you,


your back to the warm constant

of the gold sun. They hand you a club


and say, Don’t be a cunt.

With a fifth strike, the spinal cord


snaps, slips through your fist

like the string of a wind-swiped kite—


and it’ll be years before you know,

dipped in black waders, you were


half in your dark grave already.