Mark Rudman

Which Tribe Do You Belong To

for Jill Carroll

They call it the “si” joint
and now it presses against
a herniated disk with a bone chip
thrown in for lumbar torture.

As if it weren't enough that I'd become
prisoner to the young woman's face,
not her face, her neck—which for lack
of a necklace or choker appears very long.

Was it removed in that it might reflect
the henchmen's faces, identify the future
tense executioners and turn them
into our quarry, and even lead

a commando, whose only chance
is to act alone, to where she's being held?
My son would say "get used to it."
And she went of her own accord.

How can I get used to not
knowing if the subject still
has her head on her shoulders
with the deadline gone

and the term “war crime”
ripped from parlance….
For rules of engagements
look to an official's penalty whistle

arresting twenty-some
contemporary gladiators.
The horror of her bare neck,
the glint of the invisible blade.

Can't get used to it:
women subjected
even when it's pretend,
Meg Ryan playing soldier gutshot

in role of odd woman out.
Why does the word “woman”
fall freely from my tongue
and “female” make me feel

Three years in the besieged city
the young American women
donned headgear sanctioned by Islam,

hijab and abaya and blend in.
Notebook, pen, Arabic
name, interpreter, driver
slipped unremarked

through Iraqi nets.
Has the threat of execution
lengthened her neck?
Has it incited unseen seizures

and foam as it did Fydor?
It was awful, going straight
from the portrait gallery
at the Tate

to her image on the digitized
neon band doing a 360-degree turn
every minute.
It doesn't mean she's alive

or otherwise.
The shelling of Baghdad.
The night hits so weirdly lit.
The weaver of tales

who cast us under her spell.
She's a woman who understands.
Even if she hasn't given birth.
What did Berger say about

women's necks in Ways of Seeing?
Did he take a consistent line
on women's neck in portraits?
I forget. Last I knew John

Berger was alive.
No one believes
John Berger is eighty
no matter how many times

we run through the elementary math:
years have passed. Flowed.
The green band wheels in the night.

Decapitation in slow mo.
If it weren't for this stress
why would anyone pick out
the leather choker

held together by a silver clasp
around Senator Clinton's neck
delivering an address—
no one can touch her.