• Leann Shamash

The Count in Fours

Updated: May 11, 2021

#thecount #counting #thecounted #theuncounted #iamcounted #iamuncounted #planning

#census



During our lives we all are classified into different groups. Consider some part of your life and you can immediately imagine a classification system. Employed-unemployed, young or old, city of country, happy or sad; our lives are a series of statuses, juxtaposed to alternative statuses.


In Parshat BaMidbar, a great deal of space and text is devoted to the census which arranges and classifies households in almost a militaristic fashion. Heads of households are identified by name and that name is assigned a number.


In these poems I'd like to consider the various parties that represent a census which counts people and households. These classifications include the counted, the counters, the uncounted and the person who designs the intentions of the counting. At some point we may find ourselves in any of these categories or in none. The field is wide and changing and perhaps once we counted as a group it becomes more difficult to imagine being in the shoes of others classified differently.


The Idea

ideas are poetry

making them happen is prose



The Waltz of the Counter


He is the counter

It is what he always dreamed to be

There is a certain rhythm

To his count

1,2,3,1,2,3

The waltz of world building


The count continues and twirls

The power of numbers are in his hand

The abacus beads are his friends.

The half shekels,

the roll books,

the ledgers,

the files,

pens and pins and clips,

neatly ordered

columns standing straight as

soldiers in formation.


The waltz continues

names,

and numbers,

their totals

ebb and flow.

Numbers waltz

along the page

spreading power

producing change.

Powers are

magnified,

multiplied,

maximized


Each number

represents a name.

A soldier,

a taxpayer,

a voter,

a builder,

a worker,

a farmer.

Districts drawn,

issues decided

Life and

death,

life and

death

1,2,3,

1,2,3

magnified

multiplied

maximized



The Counted

We make up

your armies,

your committees,

your workers,

your believers,

your supporters,

your taxpayers,

your judges,

your constituents,

your enemies

your friends.

We dream along with you.

We produce,

we consume,

we rise,

we fall,

we pay,

we serve,

we bleed,

we obey,

we give,

we receive,

we sacrifice,

we are the nation

we are counted.



The Uncounted

Uncounted

Undocumented

Unsettled

Unable

Unawarded

Undone

Unbinding

Untenable

Uncalled

Unjustified

Unfair

Unfit

Undone

Unseen

Unviable

Unasked

Unequal

Unwanted

Unrepresented



ideas are poetry

making them happen is prose




“Taking the Census,” an illustration from an 1870 issue of Harper’s Weekly. (Library of Congress)



Numbers 1: 2-4 (Translation from Sefaria)

שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמ֔וֹת כָּל־זָכָ֖ר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָֽם׃ Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head.

מִבֶּ֨ן עֶשְׂרִ֤ים שָׁנָה֙ וָמַ֔עְלָה כָּל־יֹצֵ֥א צָבָ֖א בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל תִּפְקְד֥וּ אֹתָ֛ם לְצִבְאֹתָ֖ם אַתָּ֥ה וְאַהֲרֹֽן׃ You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.

וְאִתְּכֶ֣ם יִהְי֔וּ אִ֥ישׁ אִ֖ישׁ לַמַּטֶּ֑ה אִ֛ישׁ רֹ֥אשׁ לְבֵית־אֲבֹתָ֖יו הֽוּא׃ Associated with you shall be a man from each tribe, each one the head of his ancestral house.








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