Census

By Carol Muske-Dukes b. 1945 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.

Carol Muske-Dukes, “Census” from Skylight (New York: Doubleday, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Carol Muske-Dukes. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems (Doubleday, 1997)

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Poet Carol Muske-Dukes b. 1945

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 Carol  Muske-Dukes

Biography

Carol Muske-Dukes was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1945. She earned a BA from Creighton University and an MA at San Francisco State University. Her collections of poetry include Camouflage (1975), Applause (1989), An Octave Above Thunder: New and Selected Poems (1997), Sparrow (2003), which was a National Book Award finalist, and Twin Cities (2011). In addition to poetry, Muske-Dukes has published two collections of essays, . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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