Kathyrn Cowles, "Keeping Track"

There are times you're paying so much attention to detail you miss the obvious.

Kathyrn Cowles, "Keeping Track"

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"You see hypocrisy, they see hierarchy." –@MsKellyMHayes

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Kathryn Cowles, "Keeping Track"

A thought, thrown at us: "no six, I missed one / it was there anyway." I can recall when I counted like that. Tedious tasks at retail and stocking jobs. But also worrying at the worst moments. The break-up would happen and I'd feel numb. If asked, I'd have to use my own fingers to count.

The recognition of a missed sixth follows more careful observation: "five birds on the wooden beam / black and shaking their luck." There's a story here. Maybe the birds escaped a rainstorm, found a beam beneath a ledge or cropping which could shelter them. It sounds like they're shaking out the water they've been hit with. This is "Keeping Track." The birds are counted in one sense. Where they are, how they're behaving, what color they possess.

There are times you're paying so much attention to detail you miss the obvious. I believe that's a theme "Keeping Track" wants us to think about. How can we mess up something so simple as counting? Lots of ways, actually.

Keeping Track (from Maps and Transcripts of the Ordinary World) 
Kathryn Cowles 
five birds on the wooden beam  
black and shaking their luck  
no six I missed one  
it was there anyway

In recent years, I've said to myself many times "the obvious is never obvious." It's because I messed up things as simple as counting.

Before, the main culprit was trying to sound smart. I wanted to be thought of as contemplating higher problems. It's not enough to know if gas prices are up, or even that they matter for elections. What I want to ponder is whether everyday costs factor not only into our perceptions of progress or decline, but our notions of citizenship. I want the fancy topic, the 3 scoops of ice cream with toppings, the one that will fall over in a flash if I'm not careful.

This is still a problem, but I'm better now at taking the time to explain what we need to know first. The trouble with reaching for the fancy topic is you're prone to skip that part. You want to sound smart, after all. No one sounded smart by starting with "gas prices are up." Often, people leave the room if you open with that.

So it's funny. I could pack a paragraph with details and observations and witty comments, but no one would know what I was talking about because I didn't bother to state it. It's like I was saying, along with the last line of the poem, "it was there anyway." You'd know what I was talking about if you did the research on my little lecture before I even spoke!


We can mess up something as simple as counting by expecting others to do it for us. That's not quite happening here, though. The drama of the poem is that there's a bird lucky to survive and this was nearly passed over. What isn't being seen is a survivor.

I've got to wonder how self-referential that is. Counting really is tough, especially when you're told to not count yourself. Or when brilliance is held to be in words that go over people's heads but not in listing what we need to see.

"[I]t was there anyway"–in the end, all we can do is make sure we go back and look. That's "Keeping Track," less the methodical, regular, dependable account, more the unreliable one getting amended.