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,
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.