Valentines: “538” by Rae Hoffman Jager


Pennies balanced
in a Maxwell Coffee House tin
precariously, of course,  
on top of the front door frame. 
That was the best we could do 
for a security system in 1998. 
The oldest boy each night would  
draw his sleep-heavy legs and closed
eyes down the stairs, across the family
room as quiet as a deer in snow,
and to the front door
where he’d sway for hours
until someone shook him.
Once, he unlatched the lock
and stepped out into the night.
My mother found him
shivering at the Elm. She said
a tingling in her toes woke her.
The next time, there was no next
time— The tin, of course.
My mother gathered all those
useless but abundant pennies,
scuffed and hard earned
and dumped each one with a ping 
and a tat. And after each of us 
was folded into bed, placed 
the tin to come crashing down 
at the slightest ripple of air.  
And of course—that is the moral 
you’d miss if you weren’t reading closely—
The overlooked ingenuity of the mother.
The abundance of the mother.

About Rae Hoffman Jager

Author photo of Rae Hoffman Jager smiling directly at the camera with a brick wall behind her.

Rae Hoffman Jager is the author of One Throne (2017). Her book, American Bitch, is forthcoming from Kelsay Press in 2022. Rae’s poetry has appeared most recently in Juke Joint and The Moth. She has work forthcoming in New York Quarterly. Her work has been described as rambunctious, urgent, funny, and elegiac. Rae holds a BA from Warren Wilson College and an MFA from Wichita State University. For more information, you can visit her website at