Hundreds of us pressed tightly together
In the south lounge of the Forum
To watch the lottery on a giant TV screen.
We were stuck in the heart of the country,
But in Washington, the men in sober suits
Stood together on the bright stage
And faced the rolling cameras
For the invocation blessing our country,
Which would be a blessing to the world,
And the roll call of birth dates.
The mood among our motley seemed
Festive and fearful, seething, curious.
The selection: a random sequence
Of blue capsules mixed in a shoe box
And pulled out of a glass bowl.
September 14thwas the first date
Pasted onto an enormous white board
With 365 more empty slots.
April 24th: the lucky second.
Someone muttered, "I'm fucked";
Someone lit a joint, as at a concert;
And the girl next to me began to sob
For her high-school boyfriend in Cedar Falls
Whose birthday was December 30th.
History existed only in textbooks,
But it arrived for us on December 1st, 1969,
With the Selective Service System.
Those blue plastic capsules opened,
And people drifted away when their days
Were called to call their parents
Or get drunk or pack for Saskatchewan—
Where was it, anyway?—or muse over
The randomness of dying in Vietnam.
Edward Hirsch is the author of Earthly Measures.
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