Per Contra

Summer 2007


Plain Text Version - Poetry

The Token Token by Mark Rudman


Token woman, ten years back when she was hired

to cover the war; that war; the other desert

war; that followed on Rommell's problems in the war

where coverage was spare; as rare—as water; water


still slung over the infantry's shoulder; and by today's

standards a standard issue canteen held about a quarter

of the water we're advised to drink to take the water cure

everyone's advised to—I already said take—take seriously.


The convenience borders on the unreal.  And the options,

the options could make a proper-name fancier drool;

that, or go under, sink under the weight of possibilities:

Poland Spring, Evian, Cool Water, Clear Water, and in


Manhattan the water of waters, Tap Water, purer than

any and all of the above.  I went blank when faced

with a super-flux of relativity’s shifting,

reversible possibilities. 


The shame of drowning in a dried-up riverbed.

“Between shame and dying, I will take dying.”

Add Brita Filters to our heralded reservoirs

and you’re half the way there. 


The crack cardiologist whose care I fell into through my father’s

brother-in-law, by habit now prescribes the same universal cure,

water, water and more water, for every non-

life-threatening ailment, but one whose signature symptom was two;


double-vision and a sandpaper headache that made a migraine

into a mere malaise.  The young doctor worked under a middle-

aged master known for royal clientele, from JFK to F. Lee Bailey.

He made a bundle on self-help books and talk shows


targeting white bread as the ultimate culprit preventing

advances in an overweight and undernourished health the world

over.  My doc was dubbed: worthy successor. 

I just wish he didn’t have answer at the ready


when my uncomplaining wife complained of blinding, eye-

paining and brain deadening awfulness and a fever

that would melt generic thermometers.


We won't count my bout with encephalitis that no

doc could diagnose and whose symptoms I prefer to spare everyone

rather than run through them again.  O

began my Ode to Water.  And the hard-edged, attractive, intrepid


broadcast journalist who knows how to heighten her assets

with tight, bright red sweaters that draw the CNN viewer's attention

away from the unendurable situation that worsens with every sip

of Evian, has mastered and adapted tools from the novelist's trade


to the everyday fiction, based on facts if facts are just "what really

happened" to the Marines whose deaths are noted by groups;

CNN can’t spare airtime for names when the commercial break-

ers are waving, gesturing, and pounding on the bullet-proof glass


for her to stop; either way, she's schooled in sign and lip-reading,

and a surge of pleasure runs through her the way they lay cliché

on cliché, like cartoons of men; and she squeezes in mention of the five

Iraqis—civilians—whose remains are scattered from the same explosion


that took the lives of our four—she can sneak it in now: young men.

Cut.  Burst through door.  Hysterics.  Threats.  But she's elsewhere.

She's cracked open a fresh cool bottle of Evian

and returned to her dressing room to


breathe, contemplate changing clothes depending on what the day

may bring.  She likes her beat.  And being invulnerable.

And the sound of bullets whistling in earshot.

From her earliest years


she knew she was a thrill seeker.  A concerned

girl; now a woman.  She has seen the gender issues recede.

But she's still a target, albeit a moving one.  Men

will always resent an appealing woman who will not consent.


And a simple "no" will always be "what's wrong with me."

She could care less, but works at not being careless

since the slightest misstep can, has, and will blow

anyone, anywhere, on alien ground, uninvited, to


instant oblivion.  Try and package that, she muses,

along with the other garbage and ephemera cloaked

in the joker's sober garb and muddled, appropriated baritone.

And then it came, a sure fire way to get fired, report


a traffic jam on a narrow two-lane highway headed

nowhere, unless Trouble has become an actual city overnight.

The last she knew, and that was back in the States, Trouble

City was a metaphor for emotions, was it not?, not places.


It’s a sign; it’s time; to return home.  And turn my notebook

into a confidant who won’t betray me without hesitation

for her own gain, a moment’s moment doomed to become

a loss that will dog her heels to the grave.  People.


Chained to routine like a dog to his vomit.  Oblivious,

already in oblivion for lacking the foresight to see

what’s not in front of their eyes, what’s lacking from

the hearts they steeled against what makes them human,


soul and emotion that flew out once they signed on

to procedures guaranteed to keep them looking young.

I must be dumb.  When a colleague, fellow

journalist—I hadn’t wanted to go to “rival”—said


I’d kill for your genes, I lost it.  The tape was still

running after we’d gone off the air and after several more

hearings I caught the stress on “kill.” 

Now I knew, whatever people used to say all the time


as part of an unquestioned accepted banter now meant

“I will do whatever it takes to get what I want.”

Blast of cold air; I shuddered.  And while

I knew if the other side got wind of it


they would place the sentence underneath her cosmeticized face and that I,

not she, would be the one called to say—what?

Cover up her words as well as the face and other parts

she’s already covered over?  If ever there were a no brainer


this—isn’t it.  There’s a limit to the number of lies

a person’s lips can utter without losing more than her job.

And it rhymes, goddammit, it rhymes with lies.

The choice isn’t mine.  The choice is life.



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