Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Census . . . correct counting is not easy. . .

     One of the challenges of applying mathematics is doing it correctly.  Each of us has a limited view, often affected by biases such as racism and sexism. And Covid-19 concerns have further-limited our access to accurate information in situations such as counting election-ballots or counting all Americans for the 2020 census.  The following thoughtful poem, "Census," is not new; it was first published in 1981.  What does it show us about counting?

     Census     by Carol Muske-Dukes

     Here's how we were counted: 
     firstborn, nay-sayers, 
     veterans, slow-payers, 
     seditionists, convicts, 
     half-breeds, has-beens, 
     the nearly defined dead, 
     all the disenfranchised live.

     Once everybody had a place
     among the nameless. Now we
     can't afford to be anonymous.

     Consider, they said, the poor,
     the misfit—consider the woman
     figuring herself per cent.

     Consider the P.A. system making
     a point so intimate I petition
     not to be anybody's good guess
     or estimate. I ask to be one:

     maybe widow-to-be watching the sun
     diminish brick by brick along the jail
     wall and also that green pear
     on its drunken roll out
     of the executioner's lunch basket.
     At 12:01, 02, in the cocked chamber
     of the digital clock
     the newsman said: There'll be less
     work in the new century. And my job
     will be, as usual, forgetting—
     or getting it backwards—

     each non-integer, tender and separate,
     fake rosebud, Rolodex, cab full of amputees
     obedient to traffic, moss on the baby's headstone . . .

     minus and minus' shock each minute,
     the kiss, its loss,
     each newborn and condemned-to-be     

     in one breath executed, and blessed.

I found this poem here at  It first appeared in Muske-Dukes'  collection Skylight (Doubleday, 1981).

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