I count in my head and have for as long as I can remember. When I swim in Long Pond in the summer, I count 20 strokes breathing to the right, then switch, 20 to the left. When I cut carrots for salad I count the chops of the knife — one, two, three, four, five. I memorize the numbers on license plates of cars in front of me. I count the holes I poke in the dirt with my finger, getting ready to plant beans. I count stitches as I knit. I track my runs and walks and bike rides with an app on my phone then write down the distance on my calendar. I count my inhales and exhales when I meditate, when I hold a pose during yoga.
What does this say about me? That I’m a poet who pays attention to the rhythms in my life? One summer several years ago I wrote 14 sonnets, because a sonnet has 14 lines and I wanted to create the symmetry of 14 x 14. Working in the traditional form, I counted beats in the lines. I spent much of the summer tapping with my fingers as I moved through my day repeating lines from the poems in my head, working to get each line to ten syllables of iambic pentameter. I can’t write a poem without some order to the number of lines in each stanza. Really, I can’t. If a poem just won’t take that shape, I take out the stanza breaks and let the poem run on.
What does that say about me? I like order but I also like disorder. Writing a poem orders the world and also enters the disordered perceptions that make up a moment, roaming among the associations that make meaning of a collection of words. Adherence to a form, even if it’s a form I’m imposing rather than a traditional sonnet or sestina or villanelle or triolet, makes me work harder to make the sense make sense.
I think. And now I’ve counted these words and I’m at the number I’ve decided I’m going to write each day for these two weeks. So I’m done.