‘Takedown’ by Erin Hoover

Introductory note: 

Erin Hoover’s masterful poem “Takedown” demonstrates the infinite flexibility of poetic narrative to express the essential stories of any given age. "Takedown,” which recounts in excruciating detail one sexual predator’s attempt to destroy a young woman's life as an act of vengeance, gives powerful voice to our present moment, one in which the epidemic of sexual violence toward women, and some of the ugliest aspects of online culture, are finally being exposed and addressed with the seriousness these assaults on women’s lives deserve.

—Erin Belieu




The culture of sadism online has its own vocabulary and has gone mainstream.
            —Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

They say I did it all. No matter that I was home
binging on crime dramas, sad-drinking cans
of Coors. As ever it was, the best methodology
for devaluing a woman is to strap her body
to the cum-stained mattress of your mind. A nymph
at twenty-two, my pout and stare perfected

for the webcam, my lashes opened on an expanse
that could contain anything, my face a table
where others set their desires. At the millennium,
every cool girl styled an allegiance to corporate punk
by threading the same studded white belt through
her skinny jeans. We all practiced the same brand

of naive prurience, the saucy schoolgirl minted
in porn, deployed on rock-n-roll boys who
played and booked shows in Chinatown warehouses
and rooftop gardens, slept on floors when not
sleeping in vans. We girls were the first professionals
of the profile pic, guilded in Photoshop. Our rule

was to look anywhere but at the camera,
its lens masking the ether of strangers, guys
who just wanted to bone. So, I looked above,
or away, faking interest in a spiderweb, in a scarf
half-shed from its hook. From the digital woodwork
men thronged to me, boarded busses in lesser cities

for New York, to hold in their arms the girl
they’d clicked on, a girl who wasn’t me, but someone
like me. It was the start of a new era of It Girls,
season of Chloë Sevigny, “discovered” by editors
in Washington Square hanging with skater kids,
Chloë of the cool so effortless it earned her

a New Yorker profile. On the messageboard,
we girls found admirers on virtual park benches.
Thrust into the amber honeycomb of modest fame,
few remembered the local queen deposed recently
to make room. Stunned by the glow of my new
digital identity, I touched my own face as if

for the first time. And while years later, I still don’t
forgive him, I do understand the man who tried
to wreck my life, that dumpster-shaped rabbit
who’d been so clever online, ratcheting up snark
as a semi-legit film blogger. Nothing more vicious
than a nerd with a little power. At a bar one night,

I looked into his pink-edged avuncular eyes,
ignored the creep of his fingers on my waist,
and tried to be his friend. I didn’t know rejection,
for some men, is a mother, and when she opens her legs,
she births monsters, three-headed, feathered with gills,
on a Hadean plain. So, he hacked my account,

texted other men pretending to be me, begged
on my behalf to blow them, sent photos
torrented from some troll-approved triple-X site
of someone else’s tits, an engorged pussy that,
while beautiful, wasn’t mine. This is how the other me
was born, stood up from her smut cradle, stretched

her limbs into the middle of a thousand fantasies.
I can no longer be surprised that so many men
stepped up to claim me—copped to fucking
the Whore of Babylon—because I’ve learned history
is a series of tents pitched by colonizers that plunder
the same land over and over, until the last garden

meets her toxic dawn as a dump. The shock
was the women, eager to act as support staff
to these jerks, the misogynist’s version of interns.
Which is worse: a Brooklyn-based henhouse
of opportunists I never liked, gleefully diagnosing
my VD over disco fries, or my actual friends,

silent and spineless at the same checkered table?
On the Internet, I learned I’m down for threesomes,
wield the world’s largest dildo, sell smack from
a cunt with a mighty case of herpes. I refused men
who thought I owed them, yet the best word for me
so many smart people could muster was slut.

And it’s all still there—the takedown transcripted,
barbs never dulled when read a third or three-
hundredth time, when I give in and dig again
through the digital septic tank. Online assassination,
its insults perpetual, on hand for anyone to read
forever, would spur editorials and thinkpieces

long after I was told repeatedly, Bitch, slit your wrists.
Googling today, I can find that rabbitty shit
who once circulated “my” pussy photos. He’s still
into movies, now famous for egging smallfry
in Tinseltown to off themselves, and for posting
footage on his blog of a girl being skullfucked,

cum dripping from her slack mouth. Some people
give themselves away so easily. This is what
some It Girls become, like me, a human zip file
of other people’s malice. Meanwhile, the trolls
who once hassled me slid gently into their forties,
with mortgages, slipped discs, kids to tuck in.

I’d like to say I’m surprised to see they’re still at it,
as drawn as ever to the tireless late-night thrill
of tapping out dirty cunt, tapping out faggots,
their lunch hours spent flushing new prey from
its quarry. On the same chats and comment boards,
I imagine a new generation logging in—

some that don’t yet know the will of strangers
to seek and pierce their emotional centers,
and some to whom kill yourself will come easily,
like the echo of their fathers’ voices. Soon enough,
the daughter I carry now will be there, too. I want
more for her than pussy shots and the vengeant

glow of an LED screen, a choice beyond
predator or prey. I’d give my daughter the power
to resist the inchoate purr of the It Girl
in her throat, the troll’s easy welcome before
he takes her down. Refute any world, old or new,
that denies she is human. I’d say to her, I’m here.


Erin Hoover's debut collection, Barnburner, was selected by Kathryn Nuernberger for the Antivenom Poetry Award and will be published by Elixir Press in 2018. Her poems have appeared in the 2016 edition of The Best American Poetry and in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Awl, Bennington Review, Narrative, and elsewhereOriginally from Pennsylvania, Erin currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

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