A Poem by Erin Hoover

The Valkyrie

Strapped to the wheel of perpetual
awareness, I listen as my boss says, if I want
to keep my job, I’d best think hard, not about

the minutes I waste, but the seconds. So when
a man catches the ATM door behind me,
each blink I take feels like a good, long

sleep I’ve earned. I don’t notice, at first,
the worm of his moustache, butter-colored
arms starred with moles, or the side-pocket

protrusion of his gun until he motions
at it, then me, to hand him the single crisp bill
I’ve withdrawn to help me get hammered

tonight. It’s already growing soft as I wad it
into his palm, relieved to comply completely,
to be sure of doing it right. But then he says,

Take out the rest. Now, with the barrel nudging
my left lung, there it is on the screen,
in the certainty of 1s and 0s, how little

I have left. Only last night, I went home
with a guy who asked me to strangle him,
so I put my hands on his neck and squeezed,

said, No one will even notice you’re gone
in the stony voice I usually reserve for myself.
The words came easily, but how loud they were

in that musk-hot room, how his body tensed
felt new. So I move to snatch back the bill,
and my robber’s hand opens as if he expects it,

the rule that anything given in the world is soon
retracted. The gun there, still. And me,
banking on him as the kind to shove a girl

down a flight of stairs, that they’ll do enough
work to shut her up. But there are no stairs,
no hypothetical falls, just my explanation

to him that today I turned off the lights
in the supply closet to cry. How pieces of me
remain in my office cube long after security

sets the night alarm, and that some part
of me is always there, two eyes under a desk —
the same hapless Valkyrie hitching up my skirt

each morning to ride into Port Authority,
drawing against the water torture of a system
that owns my sword, portions out my rations,

and his. His hard face breaks into pity, eyes
and jaw relaxing. He puts the gun away,
a teenager in dirty jeans, skin of the innocent,

and says, Don’t tell anyone. Please. My eyes
close against the war drum of our twinned
pulses. The wheel stops for us. It finally stops.

Erin Hoover is the author of Barnburner, selected by Kathryn Nuernberger for the Antivenom Poetry Award and forthcoming in 2018 from Elixir Press. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

The Poetry Section is edited by Mark Bibbins.