Many years ago in Clayton
when I was a younger man
I happened upon a fisherman
who wore a hook for a hand.
On a bench at Rockbass Corner
where the old salts met the customers they guide
fishing the mighty St. Lawrence
a River deep and wide.
He saw me staring at his missing hand,
weathered face, and faded clothes he wore
beaten by the wind and spray
traveling from ship to shore.
He said, “You’re wondering where I’ve been
and what I’ve seen with these old eyes,
if I’ve met the beast of legends
who would make the bravest prize.”
They spoke in whispered tones of dread
when tavern stories did grow tall
A fish of gargantuan proportions
that few men living ever saw.
It was Ole’ Snaggly Teeth the leviathan
who lived in the channel’s deep
Inside a sunken schooner
was where he would lay his head to sleep.
I had heard all the rumors
and had dismissed them all as lies
that Ole’ Snaggly was swift as a torpedo
and nearly twice the size.
That he ate snapping turtles for breakfast
and boat props for lunch
that he was armored like a crocodile
and sank small skiffs with a toothy punch.
The old man swore the beast’s jaws held trophies
between his crooked teeth there was more than a single
lost lure, spoons and plugs and spinners
and when he leapt, they would jingle.
But still he could be stealthy
as he’d cruise along a beach
and slither up on land to take a small dog
right off his owner’s leash.
He said Snaggly was striped like a tiger
and that he growled like a bear
he was ugly, slimy, and scarred
and had rows of teeth that would tear
Straight through the stoutest tackle
and make your reel scream like a loon
And on stormy nights he’d even come up on the rocks
to gurgle and howl at the moon.
So late one night he loaded his old fishing boat
with a tree trunk for a rod and a goose for bait
he brought a barrel for a bobber
and an anchor for weight.
His fishing reel was a strong and sturdy
His nerves were steel and his plan was sound
He knew he wouldn’t flinch.
Just then he heard a commotion in the water
and nervously peered over the deck
and then he saw those evil glowing eyes
and felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
He saw that terrible toothsome grin
and smelled that rancid musky smell
and knew this fish had come to haunt him
straight from the depths of hell.
Suddenly the goose was gone and the hull was gashed
and Ole' Snaggles dove straight for the channel floor
The winch held and the cable hummed
but his boat would never make it back to shore.
Stunned and bobbing on the surface
he flailed and screamed out at full throat
“Holy mother of Moses,
I think I need a bigger boat!”
The old man’s eyes got wilder
the more and more that he would talk
He said, “Keep your hands in the boat son!
Don’t dangle your toes off the dock!
Ole' Snaggles is out there and he’s hungry
he’s always looking for his next meal.
He’ll come after you like a shark, boy
like a shark comes after a seal!”
“But how did you lose your hand?” I asked
“Why do you only have a hook?”
The old man seemed surprised and then confused
and then gave me a sheepish look.
He reached into a ragged breast pocket for a rusty ancient flask
and then took a little nipper.
“Oh that was a silly accident,” he said
“I dropped my car keys into a wood chipper.”
And so I realized Ole’ Snaggles was just a tangled yarn
invented by a sodden old fool
who I met outside a bar
where he had probably just fallen off his stool.
But when an angry storm throws lightning
and brings darkness with clouds that are black
I swear I can hear Ole' Snaggles out there howling
...and it still raises every hair on my back.
By Patrick Metcalf
Author's note: I thank Marie Anne Erki, Kingston artist, for her illustration, the gentleman in the story is making up a ridiculous fictional tale. He is literally wrapped-up, in this monster fish. The illustration makes perfect sense to me!
Patrick Metcalf began vacationing in the Thousand Islands,more than 20 years ago, when his grandmother and her two sisters rented three houses for a week each summer in Fine View on Wellesley Island, and invited their families from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida. Patrick spends as much time as he can each summer on the River near Clayton, NY. He began writing to entertain his son Lee, who is now eight years old. Patrick resides in Shippensburg, PA, holds a masters degree in Public Administration, and is a Marine Corps veteran. Also see, TI Life, January, 2020, "The Thousand Islands, Not a Bad Place to Spend the Summer."
Marie Anne Erki, Kingston artist and Emeritus Professor, Civil Engineering at the Royal Military College. Marie Anne initially considered a career in architecture, but her love of mathematics led to becoming a structural engineer. She says, "At a time before computer assisted drawing (CAD), both disciplines required a huge amount of freehand and mechanical drawing. After a quarter of a century of great fun as a structural engineer, I decided to pursue painting full time." You can see her works at marieanneerkipaintings.blogspot.com