Volume 29, Number 2

The Census Taker Reminisces

What I loved the most was entering new neighborhoods
with my clipboard and my questions. 
I liked cracking a barrio’s code,
seeing a whole city collapse
into numbers I could cover with my thumb.
Under every conversation I heard
the murmur of generations: people wired together
by the way things turn out
in an architecture without an end—
a filigree Babel built by lust and luck.

Buildings would crumble as I described them.
Toting up my numbers, I’d hear diseases
wandering from continent to continent,
waves choking on plastic, wars
gestating in the radio.

Come election time, I'd watch the candidates’ voices
flutter into people’s ears; the voters with backs to each other
in restaurant booths, their conversations 
fitting together like puzzle pieces, the blood of the future
rising in every glass. And I'd wonder:
Who dares drink? I wrote code
to capture it all—hopes like angels
tied to the ground, gambles like great cathedrals,
fears glowing in the night, larger than cities, luck like rain 
caught in a reservoir. I did the headcount of our whole 
self-hating horde. And I knew
I could never trust it.

—Mike Collins